Washington State coach Nick Rolovich fired for refusing vaccine

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington State fired football coach Nick Rolovich and four of his assistants for refusing a state mandate that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, making him the first major college coach to lose his job over vaccination status.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, had set a deadline of Monday for thousands of state employees, including the Cougars’ coach, to be vaccinated. Rolovich applied for a religious exemption, which was denied Monday, Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said.

Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will be elevated to acting coach and his first game in charge will be Saturday at home against BYU.

“This is a tough day for Washington State football,” Chun said at a news conference. “Nobody wants to be here.”

Also fired for refusing vaccination were assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber. Chun said there may be no precedent for a team losing its head coach and so many assistants in the middle of a season.

“Our student-athletes are the biggest losers in this,” he said.

Rolovich was not immediately available for comment.

The 42-year-old Rolovich was the highest-paid state employee with an annual salary of more than $3 million in a contract that runs through 2025. He had said he wouldn’t get vaccinated but wouldn’t specify his reasons. He was the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12 and had worn a mask during games.

Rolovich was fired for cause, which means the university does not have to honor the rest of his contract, although lawsuits over the decision are likely. The Washington State athletic department is currently facing a shortfall of more than $30 million.

Around the country, many college football coaches have publicly advocated for vaccination, including Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Alabama’s Nick Saban. Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said not getting vaccinated would be irresponsible and bragged about his team being 100% vaccinated.

Many coaches have talked about their teams’ high vaccination rates, though schools are not under any obligation to share those numbers.

Unlike last season, when COVID-19 cases swept through major college football, postponing and canceling games weekly, no games have needed to be rescheduled because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Rolovich was hired from Hawaii two years ago, after Mike Leach left for Mississippi State, and led Washington State to a 1-3 record in the Pac-12 in a 2020 season cut short because of the pandemic. Washington State has won its past three games and is 4-3 this season, including a 34-31 win over Stanford last Saturday. He finishes with a 5-6 record at the Pullman campus in southeastern Washington.

Rolovich revealed in July that he would not get vaccinated and couldn’t attend Pac-12 media day in person because of it.

He said in mid-August that he intended to follow the new mandate requiring vaccinations for every state employee but repeatedly declined to say how.

After refusing for weeks to reveal his plans, Rolovich on Oct. 9 confirmed he was seeking a religious exemption to the mandate. He has not specified his religious beliefs.

Chun said he met with Rolovich over a period of several months, but could not change the coach’s mind.

“He was resolute in his stance,” Chun said.

Rolovich needed to prove a sincerely held religious belief that prevented him from getting vaccinated in his exemption application. The application was put before a committee that reviewed the requests without knowing names of the applicants.

To continue coaching, Rolovich needed to receive the religious exemption and also to have Chun determine that Rolovich could do his job while keeping the public safe. In addition to his work as a coach, Rolovich oversaw a youth football program and participated in promotional and fundraising events.

Dickert is in his second season as Washington State’s defensive coordinator and came to Pullman after three seasons at Wyoming. He has not previously been a head coach.

Chun said the school is looking to hire assistants immediately to fill the vacancies on the staff.

Washington State President Kirk Schulz said nearly 90% of WSU employees and 97% of students had been vaccinated. Fewer than 50 of some 10,000 employees have sought exemptions, Schulz said.

The vaccine issue has percolated all season, dividing Washington State fans and providing a continual distraction.

“There was a lot of frustration with such a prominent employee choosing to be unvaccinated,” Schulz said.

Players stood up for their coach as the season progressed. Quarterback Jayden de Laura told a sideline reporter after Saturday’s win: “Stop hating on Rolo. We love him.”

Wide receiver Travell Harris commended Rolovich after the game for being a “players’ coach.”

“He’s a coach we all love to play for,” Harris said.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.