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Washington State fires football coach Nick Rolovich for not getting COVID-19 vaccine as state mandate takes effect

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Washington State coach Nick Rolovich has been fired with cause after he refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine, the university announced. 

Rolovich’s future as Washington State’s coach hung in the balance ever since the state of Washington announced a mandate for all state employees to be fully vaccinated by Monday. Rolovich, who revealed this summer that he wasn’t vaccinated, had said that he would comply with the mandate but never revealed how.

The second-year coach applied for a religious exemption to the mandate but was ultimately denied. A small percentage of state employees’ religious exemptions have been granted in the two-step approval process.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced in early August that all state employees would be mandated to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The state's mandate required an employee who wasn't granted an exemption to be at least two weeks removed from his or her second shot of a two-dose vaccine (or only shot of a single-dose vaccine) by Monday. That deadline meant Rolovich had to have gotten his second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or his Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot by Oct. 4 to be in compliance with the mandate's deadline.

"Due to the requirements set forth in Washington Governor Jay Inslee's Proclamation 21-14.1, Nick Rolovich is no longer able to fulfull the duties as the football head coach at Washington State University," the school said. 

In addition to Rolovich, the school said four of his assistants — defensive line coach Ricky Logo, cornerbacks coach John Richardson, quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann and offensive line coach Mark Weber — are also "not in compliance" with the governor's proclamation. 

"As a result, Washington State has initiated the separation process based on the terms of their respective contracts, effective immediately," the school said. 

Jake Dickert, the Cougars' defensive coordinator, will serve as the interim head coach. 

Rolovich was highest-paid employee in Washington

Rolovich was the highest-paid employee in the state with a salary of over $3 million per season. He is the first coach at the top level of college football to lose his job because of a vaccine mandate. He has not publicly explained his reasoning for declining the COVID-19 vaccine despite myriad questions from media members regarding his refusal to get vaccinated.

His firing comes as Washington State is on a three-game winning streak after a comeback win against Stanford on Saturday. Rolovich said that he was unclear about his future after the win and had not heard from the WSU athletic department regarding his exemption application.

"This is a disheartening day for our football program," WSU athletic director Pat Chun said. "Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of the young men on our team. The leadership on our football team is filled with young men of character, selflessness and resiliency and we are confident these same attributes will help guide this program as we move forward."

WSU president: No employee will receive special treatment

Washington State president Kirk Schulz said that no employee at the school would receive special treatment regarding the mandate. Rolovich announced that he wasn’t vaccinated in July when he was the only coach in the Pac-12 who didn’t attend media day in-person because of the event’s vaccine mandate.

Schulz said Monday that nearly 90% of WSU employees and 97% of WSU students are vaccinated.

"WSU students, faculty, and staff understand the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks so that we can safely return to in-person learning and activities. I am proud of all those members of our community who have set the example and taken the steps to protect not just themselves, but their fellow Cougs," Schulz said. 

Added Marty Dickinson, the chair of WSU's Board of Regents: "Experience is showing that vaccine mandates help motivate people to complete the vaccination process. WSU has worked diligently to ensure the health and safety of our students, facility, staff and communities, as seen in our outstanding vaccination rates. WSU leadership takes Governor Inslee's mandate policy seriously and we are committed to complying."

The Cougars were 1-3 in Rolovich’s first season with the team and he finishes his WSU career with a record of 5-6. He was 28-27 in four years at Hawaii and the Warriors were 10-5 in 2019 before Washington State hired Rolovich to replace Mike Leach.

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