For the longest time, when I was at Banner Society, my college football reporting team had a game. We’d try to plan trips with a purpose and see if we could get them expensed. It was an exercise in story selection as much as anything, and it kept us poking around at far-flung or out-of-the-way places, even if we never traveled there.
Mine was sending a reporter to American Samoa with Joe Salavea’a for a recruiting story, which California Sunday ended up doing better than anyone could dream. Most involved far-off tropical locations. The one thing we all agreed on was finding a reason to get to Hawaii.
Nick Rolovich was that reason. Hawaii had been bad since all of us were in a place to pick travel. Rolovich, the marketing he brought to his program, and his teams on the field, made people stand up and pay attention nationally. They weren’t great, but they were Hawaii Good. Rolovich was interesting, candid, and easy to talk to. It was clear he was going places.
There’s a bar here that we should talk about. It’s hard to win at Hawaii, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. From the moment Rolovich took over, he wasn’t shy about reminding people how poor the facilities were and how many disadvantages he faced at the school — points he was as correct about as he was quick to remind. This was part of the expectation setting, both for his program and for himself. But at every opportunity, he’d remind folks about the hardship he faced, both in public and private.
At the same time, Rolovich built something at Hawaii. He took talent and made that talent outperform. Where he really excelled was returning to his roots and implementing the Run and Shoot (with some help from Cole McDonald). He did a damn good job taking Norm Chow’s underperforming team, making it better, and transitioning to his own system. It was incredibly impressive to watch, no matter the circumstances.
This is why we were excited to see him at Washington State. As a program builder, Rolovich brought so much promise. He did a lot at Hawaii in the difficult circumstances he correctly identified. He implemented a fun, high-scoring offense. He checked all the boxes on the field.
I don’t understand what happened between beers at the Village Pub and the United movement in August 2020. Rolovich was dealt the worst hand to start off with, and handled it with incredible grace. In the first few months on the job, the universe gave him a global pandemic and Bryce Beekman’s tragic death. He bonded and brought people together in these difficult, unprecedented situations. It was truly impressive to watch.
I especially don’t understand what happened between then and now, as Rolovich has refused to be vaccinated against Covid-19 while clamming up and taking a defensive posture against anyone who has asked him about it in public or private. It goes against who he showed himself to be at the beginning of his time here, but it’s something that one can’t just forget either.
It’s difficult to reconcile the leader that Rolovich has been with the lack of leadership he’s displayed in critical situations that affect the future of those around him. As a head coach, Rolovich is responsible for the lives and livelihoods of hundreds. It’s never, ever just about him.
Even before the vaccine controversy, I struggled to understand why a supposed players coach would take such a strong position against players trying to express their rights. Morally, I couldn’t square denying food and access to team members expressing their concern about civil rights, athletes rights, and health and safety during a pandemic. It was such an extreme reaction, out of step with every other coach in college football, that it made no sense.
At the time, it seemed like a red flag. In hindsight that red flag had sirens and flashing lights around it.
By making a personal decision to not be vaccinated in a pandemic, and then stubbornly sticking with it, Rolovich chose himself over the university he works for, his program, players, and fellow coaches. From the moment he released his statement on Twitter — at a time when WSU was in the middle of an all-out push to get students vaccinated and back on campus — he put himself over others in an incredibly selfish way, and made the lives of his team more difficult. They’ve spent months covering for him now, including when he couldn’t be at media day in person.
He is not, and has never been, on the same side as his bosses or Washington State University as a whole. These past 18 months have been an existential crisis for the school, and with a free, safe, and widely available solution to that crisis, the school is now having to expend energy countering a message its head coach is sending. Nobody is happy about this.
There was nothing else the school could do but terminate Nick Rolovich and it was only a matter of time before we got to this point. He left them no choice after refusing to listen to those around him begging him to do what’s right for himself, his team, and the school.
June Jones said, “Rolo is Rolo, and he is who he is because of the person he was. He was a quarterback, kind of his own guy, a leader.” Jones talked to the press to try and finally get through to Rolovich, to apply public pressure and make him understand that so many people are relying on him.
In response, Rolovich lamented reading the story when he woke up and wished his players would never have to feel the way he did. Confronted with the consequences of his actions, he chose to feel sorry for himself. He centered himself and his feelings over those of the people around him.