WSU head coach addresses decision to remain unvaccinated during Pac-12 Media Day

Rolovich says 75 percent of WSU football players have been fully vaccinated


Courtesy of John McGillen/Pac-12

WSU Football Coach Nick Rolovich attends Pac-12 Media Day virtually.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen reporter

With Pac-12 Media Day in the books, WSU head football coach Nick Rolovich’s statements to the media regarding his vaccination status was the highlight for Cougar fans.

The head coach faced more questions about this decision than he did about football, casting a shadow over the whole event.

Rolovich announced via Twitter earlier this week he would be attending Pac-12 Media Day virtually due to the fact he has not been vaccinated.

“The reasons for my individual choice will remain private,” he said. “However, I want to make it clear I respect, I support all the work being done by the State of Washington, who as a state has one of the highest percentages of vaccinations in the country. Whitman County, which has — I mean, what a job they had to do with college, a university, in a small college town.”

Rolovich said he will still follow any guidelines he is presented with on how to deal with the current pandemic.

“As I go forward, I plan on adhering to all policies that are implemented for the unvaccinated at the state, local, campus, conference level,” Rolovich said. “I’m not against vaccinations. I wholeheartedly support those who choose to be vaccinated, including our players, staff, coaches.”

He said about 75 percent of players in the WSU football program have been fully vaccinated and that they would “continue to educate the remaining players on the benefits of it.”

“I think we all know this virus is deadly, and these vaccines are free,” he said. “I urge everyone to consider being vaccinated. I do.”

Aside from his statements regarding his unvaccinated status, Rolovich discussed topics ranging from leadership among his players and injury news to importance of spring practice.

In his prepared statements, Rolovich focused a lot on the players and the work they have put in over the past year.

“All coaches always say they’re proud of their guys, but I don’t know that I’ve been around a team that has had to endure so much but also yet remained focused on the goal at hand in an unselfish manner,” he said.

Rolovich spoke on how the team has been preparing for this fall. He pointed to the 18 starters returning from last season and more off-season preparation as important factors heading into the season.

“Spring ball is important to the development of individual skillsets, goal setting, and it was great to have with the newer coaching staff,” Rolovich said. “I think it’s going to have a big impact on how we attack and how well we do this season.”

Rolovich also addressed a couple of different personnel situations regarding Jayden de Laura and Renard Bell’s injury.

De Laura was arrested earlier in the year after driving under the influence. The starting quarterback from last season was suspended indefinitely and missed spring practice before being reinstated at the beginning of May.

“When that happened, I said, Jayden, this mistake will not decide your career. How you approach after this mistake will probably determine a good portion of your career,” Rolovich said. “He got his head down, worked on his academics. I know it hurt him not to be in spring ball. It hurt us not having a guy who has taken some game reps in the system being out there.”

Rolovich said he believed the decision to hold de Laura out of spring camp was for the ultimate good of his quarterback.

“I just felt for the betterment of that young man and his future and his ability to help us in the future, you know, it was the right punishment to make sure he understood the severity of his decisions,” he said.

Earlier this week, news broke that WSU’s reception leader from 2020, Renard Bell, would miss the season with a torn ACL. 

“We’re going to miss him,” Rolovich said. “He’s still a valuable part of this program. He’s got an incredible mentality as far as attacking the rehab process already. I already know that he’s dialing in for a comeback when he gets healthy.”

Outside of WSU-specific news, new Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff addressed rumors of expansion, growing the football footprint of the Pac-12, COVID-19 issues, as well as name, image and likeness (NIL) rights.

Kliavkoff made his plans very clear early on in his press conference.

He said the Pac-12 will be more focused on having success in football and men’s basketball. The conference will be making more moves to garner national success, rather than a heightened sense of parity.

“I want to be 100 percent clear, going forward the Pac-12 Conference will make all of our football-related decisions with the combined goals of optimizing CFP [College Football Playoff] invitations and winning national championships,” Kliavkoff said. “This is a decision fully supported by all 12 of our athletic directors.”

He said two-thirds of the conference’s teams have 80 percent of their players vaccinated. He also reaffirmed that the conference will likely move toward a forfeiture policy for teams that cannot play due to COVID-19-related issues.

“As I mentioned previously in the press, we’re leaning towards going back to the pre-COVID policy of forfeits if you can’t field a team, but we’ve not made that final decision yet,” Kliavkoff said.

He said the Pac-12 is currently comfortable with the position they are in, in terms of member schools, but will look at all options they have. The commissioner said that the conference had received a large amount of interest from potential member schools.

It is a priority to consider all of the alternatives that have been presented to us, and we will do that in a very timely manner,” Kliavkoff said.

Kliavkoff also spoke on NIL initiatives going on within the conference, including a new initiative between the conference, the Pac-12 Network and the student athletes within the conference. The licensing programs would allow the Pac-12 Network to provide the players with highlight packages for NIL purposes.