SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Washington State fired football coach Nick Rolovich on Monday for refusing a state mandate that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the university had not made an announcement and no one was yet authorized to speak publicly about the decision.
Washington Gov. 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 or risk losing their jobs. Rolovich applied for a religious exemption.
The 42-year-old Rolovich was the highest-paid state employee with an annual salary of more than $3 million in a contract that runs through 2025. He had said he wouldn’t get vaccinated but wouldn’t specify his reasons. He was the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12 and had worn a mask during games.
Rolovich was hired from Hawaii two years ago, after Mike Leach left for Mississippi State, and led Washington State to a 1-3 record in the Pac-12 in a 2020 season cut short because of the pandemic. Washington State has won its past three games and is 4-3 this season, including a 34-31 win over Stanford last Saturday.
Rolovich revealed in July that he would not get vaccinated and couldn’t attend Pac-12 media day in person because of it.
He said in mid-August that he intended to follow the new mandate requiring vaccinations for every state employee but repeatedly declined to say how.
After refusing for weeks to reveal his plans, Rolovich on Oct. 9 confirmed he was seeking a religious exemption to the mandate, but has declined to provide details of his religious beliefs.
Rolovich needed to prove a sincerely held religious belief that prevented him from getting vaccinated in his exemption application. The application was put before a committee that reviewed the requests without knowing names of the applicants.
To continue coaching, Rolovich needed to receive the religious exemption and also to have Washington State athletic director Pat Chun determine that Rolovich could do his job while keeping the public safe. In addition to his work as a coach, Rolovich oversaw a youth football program and participated in promotional and fundraising events.
The vaccine issue has percolated all season, dividing Washington State fans and providing a continual distraction.
Players stood up for their coach as the season progressed. Quarterback Jayden de Laura told a sideline reporter after Saturday’s win: “Stop hating on Rolo. We love him.”
Wide receiver Travell Harris commended Rolovich after the game for being a “players’ coach.”
“He’s a coach we all love to play for,” Harris said.
After the victory over Stanford, Rolovich said he would come to work Sunday and go about business as usual and that he was anticipating an email with a final decision about his status.