Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich in limbo as vaccine deadline is here

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Washington State coach Nick Rolovich faces a potential crossroads in his employment status on Monday. The second-year coach is expected to find out the results of a religious accommodation request for choosing to not take the COVID-19 vaccine.

There are three potential scenarios for Rolovich on Monday, which is the state deadline for employees to get vaccinated. 

Rolovich could find out that his religious accommodation is denied, and his employment is expected to end because of the mandate from Gov. Jay Inslee

Rolovich could find out that his accommodation request has been accepted, which is expected to lead to his continued employment at Washington State. 

There’s also a small chance the ruling is delayed because of backlogged requests.

That leaves Washington State, winners of three straight and in the thick of the Pac-12 North race, in the most unusual position. No one is certain if Rolovich will remain the coach on Tuesday.

Oct 16, 2021; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich looks on during warms before a game against the Stanford Cardinal at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2021; Pullman, Washington, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich looks on during warms before a game against the Stanford Cardinal at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Following Washington State’s 34-31 victory over Stanford on Saturday, Rolovich said he planned on coming to work on Sunday to prepare for BYU. “I don’t think this is in my hands,” he said postgame, adding: “I just believe it’s going to work out the right way.”

There’s also expected to be rulings on the accommodation requests of multiple Washington State football staff members, both on-field coaches and off-field staffers. The nature of the requests vary, and that leaves more uncertainty as to what the Cougars' coaching staff could look like this weekend against BYU.

There’s an aura of mystery hanging over all the results. Rolovich’s accommodation request being of the religious variety came to light only when his former college coach, June Jones, revealed it in an interview with USA Today.

The process is blind, handled through a committee that will not have any identifying information to know they are determining Rolovich’s fate. The appeals process is nebulous.

Rolovich has about $9 million remaining on his contract. The school isn’t expected to try and pay him any of the remaining salary, as there’s a state mandate “requiring all employees … to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 on or before October 18,” which would likely be cause for dismissal. Regardless of the definition of termination, legal action would be expected to follow.

While some smaller-profile coaches in college and the NFL have lost their jobs because of vaccine requirements, Rolovich’s job becomes the highest profile test case in the football coaching world.

Rolovich, 42, is in his second year as the head coach at Washington State. He’s 5-6 over those two seasons, with three of those victories coming in Washington State’s past three games. Some players gave him a celebratory Gatorade bath after the Stanford game.

Prior to his time at Washington State, Rolovich was the head coach at Hawaii for four seasons. He compiled a 28-27 record there, earning a reputation for helping construct high-octane offenses that helped him earn the Washington State job.

Rolovich hasn’t said much publicly about his decision not to take the vaccine. And for now, the school, state and much of college football are curious to see how it plays out. Rolovich said after the game he’s “waiting on an email” with the results, which loom large over an unprecedented crossroads.

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