Tumultuous Rolovich era wraps up

From his first season to his firing, Rolovich had turbulent era in charge



Former WSU head coach Nick Rolovich walks to the sideline during the game against Oregon Nov. 14, 2020, in Martin Stadium.

KURIA POUNDS, Evergreen reporter

Since July 21, the decision to not be vaccinated has been the number one thing talked about at every press conference for WSU football, whether it is positive, negative or investigative.

Faculty members, students, alumni and other people involved in football said:

“Why can’t he just get the shot?”

“He’s casting a black hole on the program.” 

“He’s standing up for what he believes in.”

At the end of this three-month saga, on Oct. 18, football head coach Nick Rolovich, along with quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Craig Stutzmann, offensive line coach Mark Weber, defensive tackle coach Ricky Logo and cornerback coach John Richardson were terminated “for cause” for failure to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate.

Student-athletes on the team backed him for months, supporting him as a person, coach and human being.

Junior wide receiver Lincoln Victor said Rolovich “called me when I was in the portal to just talk about life and how my family was doing.”

Sophomore quarterback Jayden de Laura and his attorney put out a statement on the matter saying, “we strongly disagree with today’s decision.”

Fifth-year linebacker Jahad Woods said Rolovich held team meetings where people introduced the athletes to “financial literacy, credit, how taxes work, how to buy a house and car.”

When Rolovich was hired out of Hawaii, he was initially met with questions but optimism from the Cougar faithful. He got off the plane at a snowy, cold Pullman-Moscow Airport in January 2020 from sunny and warm Honolulu. 

He set the countdown to the Apple Cup after the introductory press conference; he even went to the WSU basketball game where the Cougars upset No. 8 Oregon at Beasley Coliseum, right before the “Klay Game.”

Everybody was initially confused and conflicted with Mike Leach leaving the program after the 2019-20 season. Rolovich, at first, gave everyone that hope the Cougars could turn it around after a disappointing 6-7 season.

June 2020 arrived, and Rolovich entered the news, but it was for the wrong reasons.

The school was starting to invite players to come back to campus voluntarily amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to participate in football activities. 

Former WSU wide receiver Kassidy Woods, who carried the sickle cell trait and was deemed immunocompromised and high risk, questioned the idea of returning to campus.

This was also right at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement with the George Floyd incident and the #WeAreUnited movement formed across the Pac-12 by student-athletes.

Woods filed a lawsuit against Rolovich on Sept. 1, claiming that Rolovich’s acts were “racist, intentional, malicious, willful, and in gross and reckless disregard of Woods’ constitutional rights,” according to the lawsuit.

So, not even six months after being hired as the next head football coach of the program, Rolovich was already in the news for this incident with Woods.

In his first season, Rolovich finished 1-3 with the team after blowing huge leads to Oregon and Utah. 

Against the Ducks, he had a 19-14 lead, and the Cougars ended up losing 43-29, being outscored 22-10 in the fourth quarter itself. The Utes, however, was a bigger collapse.

WSU had a 28-7 lead against Utah and lost the game 45-28, allowing the Utes to score 38 points in one half.

The skepticism started to rise, and people were already calling for his job. 

July 21 hits, and the media find out that Rolovich will not receive the COVID-19 vaccine and will participate in the Pac-12 Media Day remotely.

With that announcement came a lot of criticism, mixed views, judgments and assumptions of his character as a coach and as a person.

The divide within the WSU community started to grow. One side formed the opinion that he was “creating a black cloud over the program” and “putting himself over the university.”

The other side formed an opinion that he was “standing up for what he believes in” and “is a great guy because he is not taking the vaccine.”

Twitter comments were filled with debates, #FireRolo, “I stand with Rolovich” and plenty of phrases and statements from both sides.

Things boiled over after the first game of the 2021 season for the Cougars.

With his vaccination status in the back of everyone’s mind, the goal at the end of the day was to beat the Huskies, and it all started with beating Utah State and going 1-0.

Flashbacks of last season flooded the minds of the Cougar faithful after WSU had a 23-11 lead in the fourth quarter, the Cougars lost the game 26-23 in an embarrassing fashion.

The angry posts on social media and the comments made about the game showed that the divide was thinning out, and there was a unified urge to get Rolovich out of WSU, not for the off-the-field issues but ones on the field.

After a bounce-back win against Portland State, the Cougars welcomed the toughest challenge of the early season to Pullman when they faced USC on a cold, rainy day.

WSU fans were skeptical since USC was ranked and picked to win the conference.

However, the Cougars were up 14-7 at the half, and things were looking bright.

Then, the third quarter came.

After 28 unanswered points and some very questionable calls, WSU fans found themselves questioning the hire of Rolovich again.

WSU played Utah the next week.

Another collapse comes and goes with 14 unanswered points for Utah, and now the Cougars are 1-3.

That divide has officially dissolved.

Fans were now just waiting until the infamous date, Oct. 18, encouraging Rolovich to be fired because of the main storyline this season, the head coach’s vaccination status.

Cal and Oregon State were next, and the Cougs actually pulled it off, beating them both back to back. Suddenly, the Cougars were 3-3.

Before the Oregon State game, the media found out that Rolovich had applied for the religious exemption in the state not to be vaccinated.

Now the divide shifts into “he is a player’s coach,” it will be horrible to see him go if he does get fired, “he’s standing up for what he believes in” and “why can’t he just get the dang shot, is he that selfish to still put himself over the team while we’re winning?”

The debates continued as Stanford came into town for the final game before decision day.

Someway, somehow, he pulled off a miraculous win.

The win put WSU on a three-game winning streak after starting the season 1-3 and back over .500 at 4-3.

Just two days before the decision, there were the people that loved him, stood with him, supported him and were riding with him after being on a three-game winning streak.

There were also the people that still criticized him for not being vaccinated after all the evidence that supports vaccination is out there.

Monday came, and at 4:50 p.m., the news broke. Rolovich was officially fired from the university as a termination “for cause” for failing to comply with the vaccination mandate.

Whatever you feel about the guy, love him or hate him, he is the only WSU coach never to lose an Apple Cup since World War II.

He is the only coach I know to be fired after a three-game winning streak.

The future is bright with interim head coach Jake Dickert, but Rolovich will be a name the Palouse will never forget, after a year of questions, conspiracies and doubt.

After all of that, the only thing for certain is that Nick Rolovich is fired.