Washington State on Monday fired soccer coach Nick Rolovich and four of his assistants for denying a state mandate to vaccinate all employees against COVID-19, making him the first major college coach to lose his job due to vaccination status .
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, had set a deadline of Monday for thousands of state employees, including the Cougars coach, to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Rolovich requested a religious exception.
Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will be appointed acting coach and his first game will be at home against BYU on Saturday, the school said late Monday.
“This is a daunting day for our football program,” said sporting director Pat Chun in a statement. “Our priority was and will be the health and well-being of the young men on our team.”
Rolovich was not immediately available for comment.
Rolovich, 42, was the highest paid government employee with an annual salary of more than $ 3 million on a contract through 2025. He had said he would not get vaccinated but did not give his reasons. He was the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12 and had worn a mask during games.
The university announced that the assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber were also dismissed for refusing to vaccinate.
Across the country, many college football coaches have campaigned publicly for vaccination, including Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Alabama’s Nick Saban. Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said it was irresponsible not to get vaccinated and bragged that his team was 100% vaccinated.
Many coaches have spoken out about their teams’ high vaccination rates, although schools are not required to share those numbers.
Unlike last season when COVID-19 cases swept through big college football and games were postponed and canceled on a weekly basis, no games had to be postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Hiring from Hawaii two years ago after Mike Leach left for Mississippi, Rolovich led Washington State to a 1-3 Pac-12 record in a 2020 season suspended because of the pandemic. Washington State have won their last three games and are 4-3 this season, including a 34-31 win over Stanford last Saturday. He finished with a 5-6 record on the Pullman campus in southeast Washington.
Rolovich announced in July that he would not be vaccinated and therefore would not be able to attend Pac-12 media day in person.
In mid-August, he said he wanted to comply with the new vaccination mandate for every civil servant, but repeatedly declined to say how.
After weeks of refusing to reveal his plans, Rolovich confirmed on October 9 that he was seeking a religious exemption from the mandate. He did not specify his religious beliefs.
Rolovich had to demonstrate a sincere religious belief in his exemption request that prevented him from getting vaccinated. The application was submitted to a committee which examined the applications without knowing the names of the applicants.
To continue exercising, Rolovich had to get the religious exemption and also get Chun to determine that Rolovich can do his job while keeping the public safe. In addition to his coaching work, Rolovich ran a youth football program and participated in promotional and fundraising events.
Rolovich was fired for cause, meaning the university won’t have to honor the rest of his contract, although lawsuits over the decision are likely. The Washington state sports division is currently facing a deficit of more than $ 30 million.
Dickert is in his sophomore season as Washington State Defensive Coordinator, joining Pullman after three seasons in Wyoming. He was not a head coach before.
Washington State President Kirk Schulz said nearly 90% of WSU staff and 97% of students had been vaccinated.
The vaccine problem has been leaked all season, dividing Washington state fans and creating an ongoing distraction.
During the season, the players stood up for their coach. Quarterback Jayden de Laura told a part-time reporter after Saturday’s win: âStop hating Rolo. We love him.”
Wide receiver Travell Harris praised Rolovich as a “player-coach” after the game.
“He’s a coach we all love to play for,” said Harris.
AP College Football writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.