Washington State University fired its football coach, Nick Rolovich, and four of his assistants on Monday for failing to comply with the state’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate, according to a person familiar with the decision who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Rolovich, the state’s highest-paid employee, applied for a religious exemption this month from the mandate, among the strictest in the country. It was not immediately clear whether the exemption request had been rejected or if it had been approved and Rolovich’s supervisor, Athletic Director Pat Chun, had decided Rolovich and his assistants could not perform their duties while keeping the public safe.
Monday was the deadline Gov. Jay Inslee set for state workers to be fully vaccinated or to receive a religious or medical exemption allowing them to keep their jobs. A state agency report from earlier this month showed that about 90 percent of state employees who would be impacted by the mandate had already been vaccinated.
Earlier in the day, a Superior Court judge rejected a request by hundreds of Washington State Patrol troopers, corrections officers, ferry workers and other public employees for a temporary injunction to block Inslee’s mandate, though the lawsuit they have filed can still go forward.
Rolovich, who is in the second year of a five-year, $15.6 million contract, had become the public face of the showdown with Inslee, who repeatedly said there would be no exceptions, even for football coaches.
As Monday approached, the drama around the deadline intensified — fueled in part by the Cougars’ three-game winning streak, which has kept them in contention for the Pac-12 Conference North Division title. Players had firmly backed Rolovich, particularly quarterback Jayden de Laura, who gave an impassioned defense of his coach.
The players were informed Monday night when they were summoned to a mandatory meeting by Chun.
With five coaches gone, it was not immediately clear if they would be replaced. June Jones, a former head coach at Hawaii and Southern Methodist, and a mentor to Rolovich, said in an interview earlier Monday that he had not been contacted about joining the Cougars’ staff.
Rolovich said in July that he would not get vaccinated, calling it a personal decision and declining repeatedly over the past three months to elaborate on his decision.
He maintained his stance even after Inslee issued his decree in mid-August, giving state workers nearly two months to comply. After the Cougars beat Oregon State on Oct. 9, Rolovich confirmed a USA Today report that he had applied for a religious exemption.