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NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State

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The Monday After: Sometimes, nobody wins

Yesterday was not a day for celebration.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

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Ever since Nick Rolovich announced in July that he would not get vaccinated against Covid, a number of writers and/or talkers here at CougCenter made it plainly clear where we stood on the issue. Some were more vocal and direct than others — that includes me, of course — but the message was more or less the same wherever you looked:

  1. By declining the vaccine, Rolovich was choosing to be a terrible representative of a research university and an awful leader for his program;
  2. By remaining mum on the reasons for his decision, he left himself open to ridicule; and
  3. His continued insistence that he would buck both science and the wishes of his bosses would make his continued employment untenable.

Our stance was firm — firm enough that a fair number of people have taken pot shots at us over the past 24 hours, assuming yesterday would be a day of celebration for us. That we’d be popping champagne or something because the football coach got himself fired, something we had said would be the proper outcome if Rolovich didn’t reverse course.

Trust me, there has been no celebrating.

Now, let me be clear: It is both right and just that Nick Rolovich was fired yesterday. An exception to the mandate could not be made for the highest profile anti-vax employee of the state. He had to go.

I’ll allow that there was some relief among us that it was finally decided, and the program could finally start to move on; in that sense, yesterday felt “good.” But there’s no joy in being right in this instance. This absolutely sucks because it has caused a whole bunch of avoidable pain for a whole bunch of people. Yesterday was not a day any of us wanted to see arrive.

Yesterday was a day where nobody won.

Rolovich obviously didn’t win. Whatever principle he was standing on — and we still have no idea what it was — it cost him the best job of his career and roughly $10 million in compensation over the next three-plus years. He’s likely a pariah among ADs and administrators, and it’s unlikely he ever is hired for another Power 5 head coaching job. Nothing is impossible, but he took the upward trajectory of his career and voluntarily shot it out of the sky. It still seems beyond belief.

The fired assistant coaches didn’t win. At least Rolovich has 5-plus million ways to console himself. These guys have no such parachute.

The staff left behind didn’t win. Maybe defensive coordinator Jake Dickert — now the interim coach — comes out ahead on this deal. I think it’s unlikely he’s retained after this year, however, there’s a chance he’s able to use the next five (six?) games as a springboard to something bigger. But for Brian Smith, Kyle Krantz, Andre Allen, Mark Banker, and A.J. Cooper? And the other 19 staff members? They’re almost certainly all going to be looking for new jobs in January — or sooner — as the new coach will bring in his own staff.

Undoubtedly, college coaches know the deal; they can be displaced at any time, for just about any reason, and they’re used to the constant change of scenery. But to have their tenures at WSU end like this? It’s awful that their lives will be upended — including the lives of their spouses and children — for something that literally did not have to happen. All the head coach had to do to take care of the guys who followed him to Pullman was do a thing that nearly 3,000,000,000 people on the planet have done. And he couldn’t bring himself to do it, for whatever reason.

The players didn’t win. This one hits the hardest for me. These guys rode hard for Rolovich, and even if some of them say they understand or even support his decision, the reality is that a season they’ve worked so hard for — a season that appears to have turned around — is now facing a massive obstacle. They’ve lost their talisman, and they’ve lost half their staff. As you read this, many of them don’t have position coaches, because the replacements for the guys who left haven’t been finalized yet.

I’m particularly gutted for the redshirt seniors and super seniors on the team who have spent five or six years in Pullman. This picture really hit home:

Jahad Woods (13), Liam Ryan (63), Travell Harris, Armani Marsh, Willie Taylor III, Brian Greene, Seth Yost, Abraham Lucas, Jesus Echevarria, Christian Mejia, Dallas Hobbs, Renard Bell, George Hicks III, and Justus Rogers have all been on the team since at least 2017. That group has been through too much, man. They’ve endured the tragic deaths of two teammates, had their careers interrupted by a global pandemic, and now suffered through a second coaching change in the midst of what will be the final season for most of them.

They deserved better than to have their coach quit on them.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, I don’t hate Nick Rolovich. I don’t think he’s a horrible person, and I don’t wish him ill will going forward. I do think he’s incredibly selfish, lacks empathy, and is unfit to be the coach of the football team at Washington State. The decision to fire him can be both the right one and a disappointing one.

Nobody won yesterday, off the field. I just hope these guys can find a couple of more wins on it so that this season can end on a positive note.

What we liked: Deep passes!

PULLMAN, WA - OCTOBER 16: Washington State wide receiver Travell Harris (1) catches a leaping touchdown pass during the first half of a PAC 12 conference matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and the Washington State Cougars on October 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA.
This 32-yard TD reception by Travell Harris was the beginning of WSU’s comeback after falling into a 13-0 hole.
Jack Ellis/CougCenter

OK, let’s talk about football, given the team is coming off an exhilarating win over Stanford on Saturday.

The vertical passing game has been spotty all season, but it made a strong appearance in this one. The TV crew made it a point to say that Stanford seemed to be playing a lot of man, and if that’s true, it’s incredibly encouraging to know that WSU’s receivers could abuse the Cardinal again and again and again.

Before Saturday, WSU had 14 pass completions of over 20 yards. On Saturday, they had six of those — nearly a third of their season total. Pretty good! Even more wild is that Stanford had only allowed 10 of those completions before Saturday. Stanford clearly thought it had the players to prevent WSU from going deep, and it backfired marvelously.

The most encouraging part for me was the return of de Laura’s deep ball accuracy, something I thought was a strength of his after the first couple of games of his career, but then something that seemed to maybe have been a fluke. Saturday made it look like it could be that way again.

Who impressed: Kyle Thornton

PULLMAN, WA - OCTOBER 16: Washington State linebacker Kyle Thornton (52) stares down the quarterback during the second half of a PAC 12 conference matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and the Washington State Cougars on October 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA. Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Thornton was put in what would generally be considered an impossible situation on Saturday, replacing Jahad Woods after the super senior got himself ejected in the first quarter for a needless hit that resulted in a (definitely justified) targeting call.

The former walk-on would finish tied for third on the team with six tackles. His first tackle was a one-yard gain on a rush shortly after he came into the game; later, he would blow up a swing pass for a six-yard loss. He also had a quarterback hurry on a blitz in the fourth quarter that led to an incompletion.

As I say often, I’m not a coach, and I definitely didn’t keep my eyes only on Thornton, so I can’t say whether his overall performance was actually good. But I don’t think that’s the point. I can say with a pretty high degree of confidence that his performance wasn’t bad, which is certainly more than enough when you’re filling in for an all-Pac-12 candidate with a billion career tackles.

Thornton earned his scholarship before this season, by the way. You love to see it.

Honorable mentions

Max Borghi: The running back clearly reads The Monday After, taking last week’s challenge to heart by leading the team with 17 carries and 89 yards. He looked great, and we’re going to need that going forward, given that we don’t know what’s up with Deon McIntosh’s injury. Being on crutches doesn’t give me a lot of hope that we’re going to see McIntosh this weekend.

Ron Stone Jr.: Seven more tackles, two more for loss, another sack — including a crazy sequence on Stanford’s final drive in which he affected all three dropbacks, combining with Quinn Roff to force a fumble on third down.

Justus Rogers: Eight tackles, five solo, two for loss — and Stanford only rushed for 93 yards after removing sacks from the stats. The Mike linebacker has a lot to do with that, and Rogers has been strong this year.

What needs work: That uni combo

PULLMAN, WA - OCTOBER 16: Washington State cornerback Jaylen Watson (0) looks into the crowd during the first half of a PAC 12 conference matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and the Washington State Cougars on October 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA. Jack Ellis/CougCenter

I’m not what anyone would describe as an expert in fashion, but I’ve also watched a lifetime of sports, and I think have a pretty good idea of what works. A thing that did not work? Saturday’s combo of gray helmet and anthracite top/pants — a first for that combination, as near as I can tell.

I do enjoy our various combinations of colors that the simplicity of our uniform fosters. But in our fifth season of using these uniforms, I think we’ve very likely run out of new combinations that look good. I suggest these guidelines:

  • Don’t mix grays.
  • Anthracite should be our primary “gray.”
  • If reasonable (and it usually is), the logo color on the helmet should match the color of the numbers on the uniform.
  • With the all-anthracite combination excepted, crimson should be incorporated somewhere.

Up next! The other Cougars

Boise State v Brigham Young Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

BYU was riding the high horse at one point this year, rising all the way to No. 10 in the AP poll after a 5-0 start that included wins over Utah and Arizona State. That’s all come to a screeching halt following consecutive convincing losses to Boise State and Baylor that have dropped the Other Cougars all the way out of the top 25.

This is — finally — the return for WSU’s trip to Provo for the first game of Mike Leach’s tenure back in 2012.

Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m. PT with the game to be broadcast on FS1.

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