Nick Rolovich is a high-profile college football coach who hasn’t been able to land on his feet since being fired for NCAA violations. A new report details how he’s avoided responsibility and dodged questions about potential crimes.
Nick Rolovich was the head football coach at Washington State University. He is a Democrat, and he has been outspoken in his support for liberal causes. However, when out of nowhere, it was revealed that he had donated $500 to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign back in 2000, many people took offense to this and began demanding his resignation.
PULLMAN, WASHINGTON – Katie Lane, a Washington State University student, stood on the field at Martin Stadium and attempted to remain composed. She was with her father the last time she went to a Cougars game. On Oct. 16, only weeks after he died aged 45 after a brief fight with COVID-19, she was receiving an accolade on his behalf.
The Chosen Coug Award is awarded to a parent or family member who has had a significant effect on their student’s WSU experience. Patrick Lane was the winner of this year’s award. While preparing his burial, Katie drafted the nominating essay on her phone.
Katie wasn’t surprised by the time of the presentation, which was being seen by Patrick’s parents from WSU president Kirk Schulz’s suite. She, like almost everyone else in the stadium, was aware that WSU coach Nick Rolovich, who was standing close on the sideline, had a deadline of Oct. 18 to comply with the state’s vaccination requirement or face being fired. Rolovich, who earns over $3 million a year as the state’s highest-paid employee, was seeking a religious exemption to forgo vaccinations.
“Toward the end of the announcement, I became rather upset because I realized, ‘Oh my God, he’s just over there.’ He can hear what’s going on right now,’ says the narrator “Lane had this to say about Rolovich. “But this isn’t going to alter his mind,” I said, “and that stung because my father was a healthy man who didn’t deserve to die from this.”
During WSU’s game versus Stanford, the presentation took place during a brief break in the second quarter. A photo of Katie with her father was flashed on the video board while lines from Katie’s essay were read over the PA system, and the audience was told of how he died.
Patrick Lane, like Rolovich, was apprehensive to be vaccinated. His daughter claimed dad wasn’t anti-vaccine, but despite her efforts to be vaccinated, he said he felt safer waiting for complete permission from the Food and Drug Administration. On Aug. 23, three days after he tested positive, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine obtained full FDA clearance. He informed his wife over FaceTime on his deathbed that he didn’t want to die and that he should have been vaccinated.
Katie Lane’s on-field moment may not have resonated widely during a historic week in Pullman, but it emphasized the university’s message to the supporters inside the stadium. Rolovich’s refusal to be immunized communicated the exact opposite message for months, causing humiliation among several staff members.
The Cougars fought back to upset Stanford 34-31 for their third consecutive win less than two hours after Lane’s presentation. Rolovich was soaked with Gatorade by the players, and those who spoke publicly made it obvious that they wanted him to remain.
Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann, and Mark Weber, four unvaccinated assistants, were sacked within two days. It was the end of a narrative that has split this college town since late July, when Rolovich was the only Pac-12 coach unable to present in person at media day, as epitomized by Lane’s heartbreak and Rolovich’s Gatorade bath.
This is the account of those few months, particularly the frantic last days, which includes never-before-told details of Rolovich’s vaccination status struggle with Washington State.
Nick Rolovich is the “chief cultural officer of Washington State football,” according to athletic director Pat Chun. USA TODAY Sports’ James Snook
In the spring, WASHINGTON STATE LEADERSHIP learned about Rolovich’s reservations about COVID vaccinations and for months offered him with access to its best-available materials to assist him develop an opinion.
Rolovich met with Dr. Guy Palmer, a world-renowned WSU regents’ professor of pathology and infectious diseases, on April 21.
It had been roughly four months after the FDA gave emergency-use authorisation to both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, and athletic director Pat Chun had arranged for the meeting.
“Pat believed Nick would be more trusting of the material and more comfortable with a discussion where he could ask specific questions since I am a member of the National Academy of Medicine and not associated with the sports department,” Palmer said.
Palmer did a postdoctoral fellowship in vaccine immunology and now oversees disease control projects in Africa and Latin America, as well as WSU’s COVID testing and vaccine deployment. In the state of Washington, he is regarded as one of the greatest vaccination specialists.
Rolovich moderated a discussion that lasted about an hour and focused on subjects that Palmer claimed had been disseminated by the “anti-vax mob on social media” for many years.
“Is Bill Gates connected with the vaccinations, for example? Is [Gates] the owner of a vaccination patent?” According to ESPN, Palmer was recalled. “He inquired as to whether SV40 is included in the vaccinations and if this may be harmful. And the answer to that is a resounding no.”
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, SV40, commonly known as the simian virus 40, was discovered to have infected polio vaccinations. Multiple investigations, including one published in 2002 by the Institute of Medicine’s Immunization Safety Review Committee, have established no relationship between the contamination and any negative consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no vaccinations presently include SV40, and it’s unclear whence Rolovich acquired the notion it was contained in COVID immunizations.
(Rolovich characterized it as a “great talk with Dr Palmer” in a text message exchange with ESPN on Tuesday evening, but refused to clarify or be interviewed further.)
“I simply attempted to answer those more specific issues that have come up,” Palmer said. “I believe many of those concerns were widely discussed on social media, by folks, and I just answered them with the best facts that I could and tried to give him clear answers.”
While Palmer left what he described as a “very friendly chat” wondering whether Rolovich would get vaccinated, he believed the coach’s main worry was probable side effects.
“I believe it’s fair to say that was his biggest stumbling block,” Palmer added. (Rolovich did not mention any religious convictions that he believed would conflict with receiving a vaccination, according to Palmer.)
Brian Fahling, Rolovich’s attorney, took issue with Palmer’s characterization of the coach’s main concerns.
“If that’s the conclusion the doctor made from Nick’s chats, I’d say he’s fundamentally and irrefutably incorrect,” Fahling told ESPN on Tuesday night. “He hasn’t met Nick. Nick isn’t going to talk about his religious ideas or religion.”
Palmer talked to a larger group of athletic department officials nine days after meeting with Rolovich, who told ESPN that COVID vaccinations are among the most researched and analyzed in human history. He covered a broad variety of vaccination subjects, from the fundamentals to how physicians can ensure that immunizations do not alter a person’s genetic code and other myths.
“There was a lot of coverage in the media about [how] this vaccine was created in such a short period of time,” Palmer said. “That was a very typical headline. It was released in an almost unprecedented amount of time, but it was not produced in an exceptional amount of time.
“So I attempted to spend a little time explaining that mRNA technology [used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines] is not new, and what it does and doesn’t accomplish.”
Rolovich’s choice not to get the vaccination was made public ahead of the Pac-12 media day on July 27, when all coaches and players in attendance were required to get the immunization. Photo courtesy of AP/Marcio Sanchez, Jose
WSU declared a vaccination mandate for students and workers for the fall semester on April 28, however it was more of a strong recommendation than an actual obligation. According to WSU spokesman Phil Weiler, the policy provided for personal exemptions in addition to medical and religious exclusions, giving the institution time to investigate the constitutionality of a tougher requirement.
It wasn’t until Rolovich tweeted on July 21 that he had decided not to get the COVID-19 vaccination that it became a public relations headache for the institution. The news came ahead of the Pac-12 media day on July 27, when all coaches and players in attendance were required to be vaccinated. There were 11 other Pac-12 head coaches in attendance, as well as WSU running back Max Borghi and linebacker Jahad Woods. Rolovich participated online and declined to explain why he didn’t receive the vaccination, the first of many chances he would pass down over the following three months to explain his choice.
At media day, both players backed Rolovich, with Borghi telling ESPN, “Cougar fans are going [crazy]. They’ve just just learned of Coach Rolo’s choice and have no idea who he is as a person. Obviously, it is his own body, and he has made his own decision. I’m not sure what his medical or personal motives are for this. They have no idea how much he has contributed to the city and the club.”
The decision was not warmly received by the professors.
“I believe the faculty’s largest reaction would have been embarrassment for the institution,” Palmer said. “This is especially true now that they’ve opened a new medical school in the previous several years.” We’ve got medicine, nursing, and pharmacy — you’re establishing yourself as a health sciences institution — and then you have a high-profile figure giving a different message.
“Many people overlook the fact that not everyone can be vaccinated and that we have vulnerable persons in our community. We have no idea who they are “He went on to say more. “They’re right here in our midst. They don’t have a flashing light on their heads, therefore vaccinations in their vicinity are really important.”
When the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana University vaccination mandate on Aug. 12, the state of Washington gained the confidence it needed to extend a previous vaccine requirement proclamation to include all workers at higher education institutions. Gov. Jay Inslee declared on Aug. 18 that workers must be completely vaccinated by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment.
The next day, Rolovich informed reporters, “I want to fulfill the mandate.” “Without a doubt.”
He was frequently pushed for clarification on whether this meant he would be vaccinated or request for an exemption for weeks, but he provided no more information. In an article published Oct. 9, June Jones, Rolovich’s college coach at Hawai’i and a lifelong mentor, informed USA Today that Rolovich had requested a religious exemption. Later that day, Rolovich confirmed the news.
While several assistant coaches agreed with Rolovich’s stance — and despite the team’s 93 percent vaccination rate, public support from several of the team’s best players remained — others in the athletic department couldn’t understand how he could justify going against medical experts given the stakes, according to sources. Several Washington State employees who talked with ESPN believed Rolovich’s behavior was motivated by politics.
Rolovich gave the closest thing to an explanation in a press release two days after he was sacked, announcing Fahling’s legal action against the institution.
“It is a terrible and devastating indictment on our society, and more particularly, on Chun,” the press release said, “that Coach Rolovich has been mocked, maligned, and eventually dismissed from his profession, solely for being committed in his Catholic religion.”
COVID-19 vaccinations are not opposed by any major religious institution, including the Roman Catholic Church, which has urged its adherents, including Chun, to get vaccinated. “Getting vaccinated is a simple but meaningful way to care for one another, particularly the most vulnerable,” Pope Francis remarked the same day Inslee’s decree was published.
According to Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University School of Law and a specialist in employment law, a church’s official position has no influence on what might be an honestly held religious belief in Washington. According to the school’s website, Rolovich would have had to provide instances of how his religious system was applied in other parts of his life as part of the exemption request procedure.
According to Weiler, the WSU system has approved 340 of 436 religious exemption petitions for the five physical campuses as of Thursday, with 36 being refused and 60 still being handled. Neither Chun nor Schulz mentioned if Rolovich’s religious exemption was refused during a press conference, however Fahling’s news release indicated it was.
WSU is likely to have found him in breach of Section 1.2.1 of his contract, which specifies that he must “comply with and support all rules, regulations, policies, and decisions established or issued by the University.” Rolovich was dismissed for reason, according to Chun, and will no longer be compensated.
Fahling, who also represents Logo, Richardson, and Stutzman, refused to provide any details about his legal approach.
“From a legal viewpoint, I can assure you that we’re on pretty solid footing,” Fahling added. “In terms of facts, we’re on really solid footing.”
Before filing a lawsuit, Rolovich and the assistant coaches must first exhaust the university’s appeals procedure, which is outlined in their contracts. Those appeals must be submitted by Nov. 2 to be considered. Religious exemption claims for the three assistant coaches Fahling represents were also refused.
From a legal sense, Garden offered some insight into how Fahling may proceed.
“[They] could argue that [Rolovich] has a constitutional right to a religious accommodation [under either the federal or state constitutions], and that the constitutional right to an accommodation applies even where the accommodation would impair Rolovich’s ability to do his job or increase the risk of others becoming ill,” Garden wrote in an email. “This would necessitate the courts breaking new ground.”
“One reason courts may be hesitant to do so in this case is that Rolovich is a government employee — this matters because the Supreme Court has previously stated that the government has more leeway to impose work rules on its own employees than it does to regulate the general public in other First Amendment contexts.”
Following Nick Rolovich’s ejection, Jaylen Watson was one of the first players to come out in favor of him. USA TODAY Sports’ James Snook
ROLOVICH HAD BEEN DISMISSED AT 5:37 p.m., IT WAS ANNOUNCED AT THE TIME. The team was notified on Oct. 18 at 2:00 p.m. PT, and the news was widely publicized.
Jake Dickert, the defensive coordinator who was designated interim head coach, conducted a defensive walk-through at the practice fields next to the football operations building shortly after Chun spoke to the players. Nearly all of the players had their eyes locked on their phones as they walked off the field, tracking response and responding to texts about what had happened.
“It wasn’t like it came as a full surprise to us. We were aware that the requirement would take effect, and it had been well publicized “Dallas Hobbs, a defensive lineman, said ESPN. “It’s difficult to watch Coach Rolo depart since he’s a fantastic player’s coach. However, we have other folks on staff and here who will step up. We’ve gone through a lot and know how to persevere in the face of adversity. It’s simply another [unfortunate] situation we have to deal with.”
Rolovich indicated in a press conference after the Stanford game that he expected to keep his job, but he wasn’t so sure in private. Rolovich had told staff members that he expected it to be his last game, according to various sources.
Contingency planning for staff changes began weeks ago with Rolovich’s awareness, and Dickert emerged as the most plausible in-house alternative to take over. Part of it was due to the possibility of more stress on offensive coordinator Brian Smith, since Rolovich, Stutzman, and Weber all coached on the offensive side, and Chun was soothed by the players’ fondness for Dickert.
“I would say Nick was Washington State football’s head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, and chief cultural officer,” Chun told ESPN. “There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: that is a person who will not be replaced. Jake is aware of this, as are I believe all of our coaches.”
As terrible as the week after Rolovich’s dismissal was for the institution, it was a fundraising triumph. According to a representative for the athletic department, the athletic department has received commitments totaling $3.5 million.
While it’s difficult to measure the fan base’s dissatisfaction, Rolovich’s departure elicited significant comments on social media, both in favor and against how things went down. Regardless, it’s evident that the guys’ collegiate experience was ruined. Multiple players indicated a wish to move ahead in their own social media messages, urging supporters to focus their energy on supporting the club.
Dickert’s message to the public was similar.
“I realize people get furious occasionally,” he remarked last week, “but if you’re mad, I hope you’re mad enough to help us support our players.” “And if you believe today is a day for celebration, I hope you’ll come out and rejoice for our boys [against BYU].”
Though both men were allowed to witness practice earlier in the week, it wasn’t until Friday that the school could formally declare that seasoned run ‘n’ shoot coaches Dan Morrison (quarterbacks) and Dennis McKnight (offensive line) had joined the staff (neither was permitted to coach during the week due to NCAA rules).
Their expertise with the offensive plan, as well as their personal relationships to Rolovich, which the players could relate to, were vital. Morrison (quarterbacks) and McKnight (special teams) were both on the staff when Rolovich came at Hawaii as a quarterback in 2000, and Morrison had long been a mentor role. According to ESPN, McKnight offered a message that appeared to connect with the guys.
They weren’t there to take Rolovich’s position, McKnight said to the team. They were there to assist the players in making the most of the season and advancing through a challenging scenario.
WSU opened Saturday’s game against BYU about as well as it could have in front of a sparse crowd of 22,500. Borghi scored an 11-yard touchdown to complete an excellent first drive, but WSU struggled to stop running back Tyler Allgeier in a 21-19 defeat.
However, the game was mostly about moving ahead after a rough week.
“In terms of the team, I believe it was beneficial to have everyone together, and it definitely benefits me individually. “I have my own issues that I deal with and that I’m now dealing with,” senior offensive lineman Abe Lucas said, wearing a black and white shirt that said “Freedom of Choice.” “In the Zoom press conference, he was perched on an American flag. “Being in a routine definitely helps to alleviate the anguish and strain that we all feel individually, particularly in light of the events of this week.”
A football team may be a uniting factor on a university campus, serving as a source of pride and a representation of the community at its finest. The Rolovich standoff has been testing that unifying principle for many months in Pullman, where the streets are lined with the WSU emblem.
According to Katie Lane, who is still mourning the death of her father, the greatest way ahead is simple: “I want people to have more understanding.”
Dan Murphy of ESPN contributed to this report.