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Joe Santoro: Is it worth it, Nick Rolovich?

Then-Washington State coach Nick Rolovich watches during a game against Stanford in Pullman, Wash., Oct. 16, 2021. (Young Kwak/AP, file)

Then-Washington State coach Nick Rolovich watches during a game against Stanford in Pullman, Wash., Oct. 16, 2021. (Young Kwak/AP, file)

Did Nick Rolovich just sabotage his college football coaching career for defying a state mandate and refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
Rolovich was just in his second season as head coach at Washington State, making roughly $3 million a year, on Sunday night. By Monday morning he was unemployed and gathering lawyers in the process of suing the university. Washington State warned Rolovich for six months about getting a vaccination and was then forced on Monday’s deadline to terminate his contract because he chose to not get a vaccine.
If this was Nick Saban we’d understand it. OK, no we wouldn’t. But Saban could move the Alabama football team into the NHL and would start a trend in the SEC. But this is Nick Rolovich and, well, nobody ever confused the two Nicks before and are not going to start now. Yes, Nick Rolo-Who? He coached and played at City College of San Francisco. He was Timmy Chang’s backup quarterback at Hawaii and then bounced around NFL Europe and the Arena League thinking he was a pro quarterback.
His college coaching career began in the unfortunate Norm Chow era at Hawaii and then continued at Nevada under the wrath of Chris Ault for one year and Brian Polian for three. Rolovich stole June Jones’ run-and-shoot playbook at Hawaii and then botched Ault’s Pistol at Nevada. Somewhere in between he was an assistant at Temple for about as long as it takes for a plane to get from Reno to Philadelphia and back. He then jumped on Polian’s sinking ship at Nevada because, well, he loves Reno and quarterback Cody Fajardo and, yes, Nevada doubled his salary. He then proceeded to obliterate Ault’s Pistol offense out of Nevada in the process. Hawaii, needing someone to clean up Chow’s mess, hired Rolovich as head coach.
After one good year out of four he somehow won the lottery and was handed the Washington State top job in 2020. And now it’s over for, he says, religious reasons. That is Nick Rolo-Who? He had a head coaching record of 33-33. Most college football fans likely never heard of Nick Rolo-Who? before Monday and likely have already forgotten him. But, then again, it’s not often a guy throws away a $3 million gig to coach football. I’m sure Rolovich’s lawyers will explain it all soon.
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It’s doubtful Rolovich, even if his lawyers squeeze some more money out of Washington State, will ever coach a Power Five team again as a head coach. So, yes, you have to admire his courage.
He might look like he’s gotten some bad advice and is about to start walking around the airport and bus terminals smiling at everyone and handing out pamphlets, but he clearly believes he had no choice in this matter. He definitely chose the more difficult path.
A vaccine takes about 30 seconds of commitment. Rolovich just might have changed his entire life to avoid those 30 seconds. Those, after all, are some nice, fat paychecks to merely toss away for a former City College of San Francisco, Rhein Fire and San Jose SabreCats quarterback.
But this is yet another example of how rich these college football coaches are now. They are never wrong. Rolovich is already a very rich man so his family’s well-being is likely not at risk. He can probably go into politics based on his anti-vaccine stance and become governor of Washington in a few years. But his career as a Power Five head coach, at the still-blossoming age of 42, might be over. All of those run-and-shoot and Pistol plays will now go to waste.
What, exactly, is Rolovich proving by not getting a vaccine? We’ll, no doubt, find out. But will it be worth it? Washington State can find a lot of guys to lose as many games as they win as head coach and those guys will probably follow the rules, too.
Is the vaccine the first time in Rolovich’s life he has had to choose between his religion and following a rule? If so, we hope his decision was worth destroying the football program and the football players he was trusted to build and mold for simply not getting a vaccine.
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Also lost in the carnage at Washington State were four Rolovich assistants. One of those assistants is Mark Weber, who once coached the Nevada Wolf Pack (1992-93) and UNLV (1994-96) offensive lines. Weber was one of the Pack assistants who left in the middle of the night to join Pack head coach Jeff Horton at UNLV. They teamed up to beat Ault in 1994 and then were a part of the ugly brawl at Mackay in 1995.
Horton and Weber, though, survived the destruction that is UNLV football to coach for nearly another three decades so maybe Rolovich and Weber can also survive their latest setback. College coaches don’t fade away, after all, they just latch onto some buddy to get another job.
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The Nevada Wolf Pack will likely get rid of one of its top two rivals for the West Division title by winning at Fresno State on Saturday. The Bulldogs (2-1 in league play) already have a conference loss (the Pack is 2-0) and must still play San Diego State and Boise State. There is likely no way Fresno State could catch either the Pack or San Diego State (also 2-0) after a loss to Nevada on Saturday.
A Fresno State win on Saturday, though, will make it a three-way fight to the finish in the West Division. So, yes, this Saturday just might be the Pack’s most important Mountain West game since it joined the league in 2012.
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Fresno State’s Jake Haener is also likely the best quarterback the Pack has to face the rest of the regular season. We’ll see just how good the Wolf Pack’s revamped pass rush and its scrappy bunch of defensive backs truly are. The Mountain West’s Offensive Player of the Year award might also be on the line on Saturday.
Haener, with 2,326 yards and 20 touchdowns, has more lofty numbers than even the Pack’s Carson Strong (1,990 yards, 16 scores), though Haener has played one more game. The two teams are almost mirror images of each other. Both have a ton of offensive weapons and solid defenses. Like all big games, this will come down to coaching. Pack 38, Fresno State 34.
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Which Mountain West team will give the Pack trouble after Fresno State? Well, San Diego State still does not have a quarterback. Yes, the Pack has to go on the road to play the Aztecs but it will be at tiny Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif., where San Diego State has zero home field advantage.
Air Force has to come to Mackay and still has a 1963 offense, one that even Chris Ault would have laughed at in the 1960s. The only way the Pack loses either of those games is if its defense simply melts under the pressure of the undisguised, just-try-to-stop-it Air Force and San Diego State ground games and keeps the Pack offense off the field.
The rest of the remaining schedule (UNLV, San Jose State and Colorado State) shouldn’t be a problem for the dynamic Pack offense and improving defense. That is why this Saturday could be the key to a West Division title.
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Strong is 2-0 against Fresno State after beating them as a freshman in 2019 and again last year. In two games against the Bulldogs he has completed 43-of-70 passes for 508 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions and he is better than ever this year. Strong is hoping on Saturday to join Colin Kaepernick (2008-10) as the only Wolf Pack quarterbacks in history to beat Fresno State three games in a row.
It was against Fresno State in 2007 that Kaepernick enjoyed his breakout game. He came on in relief of injured Nick Graziano in the second quarter and completed 23-of-36 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns and also ran the ball 12 times for 60 yards and another score, transforming Pack football in a 49-41 loss at Mackay Stadium.

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