BYU and Washington State square off in Pullman this Saturday. On paper, these are two teams heading in opposite directions. The BYU version of the Cougars have lost two straight to Boise State and Baylor in discouraging fashion, being dominated in the trenches and dropping from No. 10 in the polls to unranked. The Cougars of the Palouse are riding a three-game winning streak, having just defeated Stanford at home last weekend.
All was well at WAZZU, until Monday afternoon.
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued a mandate back in August, stating all state employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18, or face losing their jobs. Over 90 percent of state employees in Washington complied with this mandate. However, head football coach at Washington State, which is considered a state job, Nick Rolovich, refused.
Rolovich originally had applied for a religious exemption, but it appears that was denied. The school fired Rolovich as well as four assistant coaches who also refused the vaccine, Ricky Logo (defensive tackles), John Richardson (assistant head coach, cornerbacks), Craig Stutzmann (co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks) and Mark Weber (offensive line).
Breaking: Nick Rolovich is out as the Washington State football coach after refusing to become vaccinated for COVID-19, a requirement for all state employees.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 19, 2021
First reported by The Oregonian and confirmed by ESPN. pic.twitter.com/qXu21pAY4u
Washington State will be without their head coach and four assistants as they plan to play BYU this coming Saturday.
Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert takes over as interim head coach at WAZZU.
Several players have publicly stated their support for their former head coach. He seemed to be a man who won over his players and they fiercely supported him.
Quarterback Jayden de Laura weighed in on Twitter following the news.
Cornerback Jaylen Watson issued a heartfelt statement as well.
This man changed my life in so many ways.. A real stand up dude that always stands on what he believes in heart was so pure and a true role model to me and my teammates. Was always bigger than a dollar sign which is the only thing you wrap your fingers around. pic.twitter.com/DMyHKkPbwY— Wat’s Island (@JaylenWatson12) October 19, 2021
Rolovich was hired ahead of the 2020 season, after former head coach Mike Leach left the Cougars for Mississippi State. He previously was the head coach at Hawaii, where he went 28-27 with two Hawaii Bowl wins over four seasons. He won Mountain West Coach of the Year in 2019.
Washington State went 1-3 in the tumultuous, shortened season in 2020. This year, after losing their first three games against FBS teams, they have beaten Cal, Oregon State and Stanford ahead of their date with BYU.
BYU fans will remember the 2015 Missouri Tigers, who went through program-wide turmoil before their game against BYU that week. The football team boycotted practice until the university president resigned due to ongoing racial tensions at the school. Mizzou ended up winning the game against BYU, 20-16. Take that as a cautionary tale this week.
Now the question will be- how will the Washington State program respond? Will the players be motivated to win in honor of their former coach? Or will this week be marred by distractions and emotions, leading to an undisciplined game against BYU?
Certainly, BYU hopes it is the latter. However, judging by the response by some of the team leaders, they look to be motivated. Martin Stadium will be loud this weekend. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and his coaching staff need to prepare with vigilance for this game. They may be getting Washington State’s best shot.