Rolovich sues Washington State over firing for refusing vaccine

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SPOKANE, Wash. – Former Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich has sued the university and Gov. Jay Inslee after he was fired last year for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Whitman County Superior Court, names the university, athletic director Patrick Chun and Inslee as defendants. Inslee, a Democrat, had required that state employees get vaccinated, or receive a specific exemption, to keep their jobs.

Rolovich contends Chun and other university officials were “hostile” when they denied him a religious exemption and fired him from his $3 million a year coaching job midway through the 2021 season. Rolovich was the highest-paid public employee in the state at the time and had more than three years left on his five-year contract.

Rolovich is Catholic and said in the lawsuit that he applied for a religious exemption from the vaccine requirement.

The lawsuit contends Chun interrupted that process, which led to Rolovich’s religious exemption ultimately being rejected. It also contends Chun called Rolovich a “con man” and accused him of being selfish.

Washington State officials issued a statement Monday saying the lawsuit was “wholly without merit.

“Washington State University carried out the Governor’s COVID-19 vaccination proclamation for state employees in a fair and lawful manner, including in its evaluation of employee requests for medical or religious exemptions and accommodations. For multiple reasons, Mr. Rolovich did not qualify, and the university firmly stands by that decision,” the statement said.

Rolovich appealed his firing in a letter submitted in November 2021 to Chun, but the appeal was denied. A second appeal was then sent to university President Kirk Schulz, who denied that appeal in December.

Last April, Rolovich filed a tort claim saying he intended to sue and seek $25 million in damages for wrongful termination. However, the lawsuit filed this week does not ask for a specific dollar amount in damages.

The lawsuit alleges breach of contract, discrimination and wrongful withholding of wages, as well as violations of the Civil Rights Act and the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Rolovich was hired from Hawaii in 2020 after former coach Mike Leach left for Mississippi State. In parts of two seasons, Rolovich led the Cougars to a 5-6 record. After he was fired at midseason, assistant coach Jake Dickert was named interim coach and led the Cougars to a bowl game last season. Dickert was made the permanent coach after that.

Bryson Barnes leads No. 14 Utah past Washington State, 21-17

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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PULLMAN, Wash. – Backup quarterback Bryson Barnes threw for 175 yards and a touchdown and No. 14 Utah beat Washington State 21-17 on Thursday night to stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 championship game.

Barnes, who started in place of injured Cam Rising, completed 17 of 27 passes for Utah (6-2, 4-1), which was off last week after edging Southern California in a 43-42 shootout Oct. 15.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said his team found a way to win despite injuries to some key players.

“I’m proud of Bryson,” Whittingham said. “He obviously came into a tough situation and he played well. Had one turnover, but he did a pretty good job of moving the chains.”

Rising made the decision not to play, Whittingham said.

“If Cam says he can’t play, he can’t play. So there was no doubting him whatsoever,” Whittingham said. “Bryson was not expecting to be the starter tonight. But that’s the nature of the number two quarterback, you’re only ever one snap away.”

Barnes, a sophomore, said he was prepared when his time came.

“You can always be ready for the moment, but until you get the chance to play you really don’t know what it’s like,” Barnes said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity tonight.”

Cameron Ward completed 27 of 31 passes for 222 yards for Washington State (4-4, 1-4), which has lost four of its past five games and was also off a week ago. The Cougars were without rushing leader Nakia Watson and top receiver Renard Bell because of injuries.

“He’s (Ward) a good quarterback, he didn’t really miss many throws at all, he was on the money,” Whittingham said. “But I credit our pass rush. They did a fine job moving him off his spot.”

Washington State coach Jake Dickert said his team is not executing well.

“On offense we are not doing anything well,” Dickert said. “We are playing just good enough to get beat.”

But Dickert is not giving up on the season.

“Right now our record says we are a .500 football team,” Dickert said. “We are playing just good enough to get beat.”

The Cougars have four winnable games left, Dickert said.

“All is not lost,” he said.

After a scoreless first quarter, Washington State scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Ward to De'Zhaun Stribling early in the second quarter. Ward completed his first 12 passes.

Utah replied with a 65-yard drive that ended when Ja'Quinden Jackson plowed over from the 6.

Utah was forced to punt late in the second quarter, but the ball hit receiver Robert Ferrel in the leg and was recovered by the Utes at the Washington State 25. Jaylon Glover drove in from the 1 with 20 seconds left in the half to give Utah a 14-7 lead.

Dalton Kincaid caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Barnes late in the third quarter to lift Utah to a 21-7 lead.

Washington State replied immediately, with Ward running 7 yards up the middle early in the fourth to cut Utah’s lead to 21-14.

Jackson fumbled midway through the fourth and the ball was recovered by Washington State’s Tanner Moku deep in Utah territory. Dean Janikowski kicked a 42-yard field goal to cut Utah’s lead to 21-17 with less than five minutes left in the game. But Utah was able to run out the clock.

GOOD DEFENSE

Despite four losses, Washington State has the best defense in the Pac-12, allowing just over 20 points per game. “I’m proud of our defense,” Dickert said.

WHERE’S THE RUSH

Washington State, which averages less than 90 rushing yards per game, was limited to 42 rushing yards Thursday night. The Cougars mustered only 264 yards of total offense, and Ward was sacked four times.

THE TAKEAWAY

Utah is the defending Pac-12 champion and needed a victory to stay in range of Oregon, UCLA and Southern California for a berth in the league title game. Washington State is seeking to qualify for a bowl game.

UP NEXT

Utah: Hosts Arizona on Nov. 5.

Washington State: At Stanford on Nov. 5.

Watson helps Washington State beat No. 19 Wisconsin 17-14

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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MADISON, Wis. – Nakia Watson acknowledged having extra motivation this week facing his former team.

No wonder he was a little more emotional than usual afterward.

Watson scored both of Washington State’s touchdowns as the Cougars upset No. 19 Wisconsin 17-14 on Saturday. Watson rushed for 522 yards and five touchdowns at Wisconsin from 2019-20 before transferring.

“Normally, I’m not a person that cries,” Watson said afterward. “But I cried a little bit, I’m not going to lie.”

Watson scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter and put the Cougars ahead for good by turning a short completion into a 31-yard score with 5:12 left in the third period. Watson said he followed the counsel of Mark Atuaia, who continually reminded him to maintain his poise at all times.

He only let his emotions out once the game ended as he thanked Atuaia for the advice.

“The fireworks were going in my head when the clock hit zero,” said Watson, who had 10 carries for 33 yards.

Washington State (2-0) was about a 17-point underdog but survived a game that featured multiple bizarre plays to produce a happy homecoming for Watson and Cougars coach Jake Dickert.

Dickert was born in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 65 miles east of Camp Randall Stadium. Dickert played for Wisconsin-Stevens Point from 2002-06, and about 200 friends and relatives gathered for a pregame tailgate.

Several of them hung around for a postgame celebration around the visitors’ locker room.

“I think a few of the are looking for some beers in the fridge that aren’t there,” Dickert quipped. “Just Gatorades and water.”

This game featured two separate plays in which one team intercepted a pass and then fumbled the ball away, creating a first down for the team that threw the pick.

Wisconsin (1-1) trailed 17-14 and faced third-and-6 from the Washington State 9 midway through the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Christian Mejia picked off a Graham Mertz pass before losing the football. Wisconsin recovered at the Washington State 20, but a personal foul on Badgers tight end Clay Cundiff pushed them back to the 35.

Cundiff then caught a 24-yard pass, but Quinn Roff forced a fumble that Sam Lockett III recovered at the 12 with 5:14 left.

Washington State never gave up possession the rest of the way.

Those two mistakes spoiled Cundiff’s day after he had caught two touchdown passes from Graham Mertz in the second quarter, a 17-yarder and a 10-yarder. Those were Cundiff’s first touchdowns since the tight end dislocated his right ankle, broke a fibula and tore a foot ligament in a victory over Iowa last October.

“I had a good first half, but none of that will matter unless you finish on the right foot,” Cundiff said. “I didn’t do that today.”

There was plenty of blame to go around for Wisconsin.

The Badgers were penalized 11 times for 106 yards. Vito Calvaruso sent a 51-yard field goal wide right in the first quarter and was well short on a potential tying 43-yard attempt to start the final period.

“We did some things today that make it hard to win,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said.

Another interception-turned-fumble led to Washington State’s go-ahead score.

The Cougars trailed 14-10 and had third and 10 from their 47 when quarterback Cameron Ward was hit by Kamo'i Latu just as he threw a pass that Wisconsin’s Jay Shaw picked off. Washington State receiver Lincoln Victor then applied a hit that knocked the ball loose, and center Konner Gomness recovered the fumble at the Wisconsin 49.

“I take this one on me, to be completely honest with you,” Shaw said.

Six plays later, Watson caught a pass just beyond the line of scrimmage, made a spin move to get past Latu at the 30 and raced untouched the rest of the way.

“When I spin off him, I see nothing but green grass and I see OP (Orion Peters), one of our receivers, blocking downfield,” Watson said. “He had his guy, and I knew it was going to be a touchdown from there.”

Washington State hung on from there and gave Watson and Dickert moments they’ll never forget.

“My grandma told me something today, your grandpa would be so proud if my grandpa was still here,” Dickert said. “That’s a special moment. Special people that just know me as Jake Dickert. That’s always what we’ve been. I’m just proud to be able to win this game with all of them here cheering us on.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Washington State: Ward went 17 of 28 for 200 yards but threw two interceptions. The Cougars still won thanks to a defense that limited Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack to 174 yards on 44 carries. Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen had 21 carries for 98 yards, just the second time in his last 11 games that he’s been held below 100.

Wisconsin: The Badgers controlled the ball for over 38 minutes, ran 25 more plays than Washington State and outgained the Cougars 401-253. But those penalties proved costly. Wisconsin had its highest totals in penalties and yardage since getting flagged 13 times for 125 yards in a 47-44 victory over Purdue in 2018.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Wisconsin figures to fall out of the poll, while Washington State should at least get some votes.

UP NEXT

Washington State: Hosts Colorado State on Saturday.

Wisconsin: Hosts New Mexico State on Saturday.