Less than a week after Mike Leach left for the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, Washington State Cougars athletics director Pat Chun has found his man: Hawaii Warriors coach Nick Rolovich will be the next head coach in Pullman, per a report by Bruce Feldman. The move was confirmed Tuesday morning by WSU president Kirk Schulz.
We have a passionate Cougar fan base, a dynamic new head coach @NickRolovich and an opportunity for a sixth consecutive bowl season for @WSUCougarFB - NOW is the time to support @CougarAthFund. Fundraising for the IPF is going well - we need all Cougs to help support excellence!— Kirk H Schulz (@WSU_Cougar_Pres) January 14, 2020
Rolovich also let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, with this tweet late on Monday night:
The move is hardly a surprise, as Rolovich’s name has been floating around for days. According to Yahoo!’s Pete Thamel, he’s expected to sign a five-year contract approaching $3 million per year. That would put him roughly in the middle of Pac-12 coaches for 2020.
Rolovich has spent the past four years as the head coach of the Hawaii Warriors, leading them to the MWC West Division title in 2019 and 10 wins overall following a Hawaii Bowl victory over the BYU Cougars. He was named the conference’s coach of the year.
Rolovich’s philosophy should fit right in at Washington State: He is a former Hawaii quarterback who is an aggressive, offensive-minded coach, deploying the pass-centric Run and Shoot to great effect.
Hawaii is a notoriously difficult place to win, given its remote location and limited recruiting base. Yet, Rolovich was able to turn around a program that won just 11 games in the previous four years under Norm Chow, leading Hawaii to a 28-27 overall record and a 15-17 record in the Mountain West Conference over the past four seasons. The Warriors won just three games in his second season, but rebounded to win 18 games over the past two, finishing in the top two in their division both times. This year, Hawaii beat both the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon State Beavers to open the season.
Hawaii’s resurgence was led by Rolovich fully committing to the Run and Shoot. In 2019, Hawaii was fourth nationally in pass attempts per game while finishing 24th nationally in scoring average; additionally, opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics liked Hawaii as well: SP+ ranked the Hawaii offense 30th and FEI ranked it 17th.
Although the Run and Shoot is a pass-first offense that should make excellent use of the offensive talent on hand, fans who have been longing for a more effective and purposeful run game are going to get their wish — the Warriors passed it on 60% of their plays, compared to nearly 80% for the Cougars. Interestingly, Hawaii’s top running back only carried the ball about three more times a game than WSU’s top running back, Max Borghi; however, Hawaii’s quarterbacks accounted for 115 non-sack rushing attempts.
Rolovich also should fit right in leading a program with a long tradition of quirky and outspoken coaches. Known for the hat that graces his Twitter bio, Rolovich also has engaged in some high-profile antics, such as bringing a fortune teller to MWC media day last summer after bringing Elvis Presley and Britney Spears impersonators in previous years.
“He’s an oddball,” said running back Fred Holly III. “He keeps everybody laughing and makes it a good environment, and he keeps everybody positive and motivated.”
Said redshirt senior linebacker Solomon Matautia, who played a season for Chow before Rolovich’s arrival: “He did a lot of things differently. He really changed the team around in a way that it felt more like a family. The difference is his energy and his passion, and you see how much he loves this place. He’s a great coach.”
Prior to taking over at Hawaii, Rolovich was the offensive coordinator for the Nevada Wolf Pack for four seasons from 2012-2015, learning Pistol offense concepts from Chris Ault for a year that he has incorporated into his version of the Run and Shoot. Before that, he had coached at his alma mater from 2008-2011 under Greg McMackin — two years as the QB coach, two years as the offensive coordinator.
His coaching career, which also included a high school stop and a couple of years at City College of San Francisco — where he played prior to transferring to Hawaii — followed a brief professional playing career, where he featured for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe and a series of Arena League teams.
He earned bachelor’s degree in economics from Hawaii in 2004 and he also has a master’s degree in human performance and sport from New Mexico Highlands (2007).