Just one week remains for state employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine in time for immunity by the governor’s Oct. 18 deadline. Unless Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich has gotten inoculated without telling the public or his employers, his selfish stance against this sensible public health measure puts him hard against that deadline.
Rolovich should get his vaccine now or clean out his office.
Either way, Washington State University President Kirk Schulz should explain why he has tolerated this foolish behavior for so long. He has known since July that his football coach was declining to get the vaccine, despite massive evidence of its safety and efficacy. Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine. Millions of Americans have received free vaccinations without notable problems. And the delta variant has spiked infections, hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated.
Yet Rolovich, an educated person with a master’s degree, has apparently not wavered. He has tried to hide in plain sight, claiming he would abide by the vaccine mandate but ducking follow-up questions.
Schulz has played the patient boss to a fault, blaming criticism by The Seattle Times editorial board in a Sept. 23 faculty senate meeting — and not his stubborn employee — for inspiring “multiple martini evenings.” He should accept responsibility for the hangover that comes from making a bad hire.
A simple trip to a vaccine clinic or drugstore could end this spiral of shoddy leadership. Instead, Rolovich has coached and conducted interviews from a distance, willingly exposing himself and his university to national ridicule. The team is visibly suffering. The Cougars have won just one game and gotten a commitment from just one football recruit in the two months since Rolovich declared he would forgo vaccination. WSU’s $3.2 million coaching salary ought to buy more than this.
There is still time for a comeback, should Rolovich overcome his self-created adversity by Oct. 4. Like the fire chief of Vashon Island, he can publicly state objections but accept that having a job of high public responsibility comes with conditions of employment. In a pandemic, those conditions include getting vaccinated to limit the spread and the possibility of disastrous health outcomes. A reluctant embrace of responsibility still counts, as the fire chief showed by getting vaccinated to keep his job.
If Rolovich wants to turn away from that, the team should be in more trustworthy hands. Because this coach has shrugged so often at the responsibilities that come with a high-profile position, Schulz and athletic director Pat Chun must be ready when the deadline arrives to hold him accountable — immediately. This sorry spectacle has played out too long already.