It took Washington State just four days to find a coach, then three more to introduce him.
We cannot remember a faster coaching search that didn’t result in promoting from within.
Moving fast and being smart aren’t always the same thing.
In this case, they are.
Seven thoughts on Nick Rolovich in Pullman …
1) Washington State’s news conference Thursday afternoon was a masterstroke, and not just because of Rolovich himself.
The segments featuring university president Kirk Schulz and athletic director Pat Chun were loaded with brand messaging, energy and humor.
How many presidents wear a hat, much less a camouflage bucket hat?
How many presidents quote headlines from media reports?
Schulz did both.
The Cougars used the opportunity not only to introduce Rolovich but also to market the underlying culture of their athletic program.
Chun and Schulz made a passionate case for what it means to be a Cougar and what the Cougars mean to the Pullman community.
Chun acknowledged Steve Gleason, the former WSU and NFL player who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and received a Congressional Gold Medal this week for his advocacy work.
He also offered congratulations to two Cougars soccer players, Morgan Weaver and Averie Collins, who were picked in the National Women’s Soccer League draft.
And all three — Schulz, Chun and Rolovich — had kind words for Mike Leach, who left for Mississippi State last week after eight seasons on the Palouse.
Every school in the Pac-12 should take note of WSU’s approach to the introductory news conference, especially with regard to Schulz’s participation and messaging.
When the president is involved, it resonates.
2) In addition to the overall vibe, we couldn’t help but notice the underlying alignment that exists within WSU’s org chart.
It’s clear that Chun and Schulz are moving in lockstep, both broadly with athletics and specifically with football.
With the model used for the coaching search.
With the hiring of Rolovich, who spent the past four seasons as Hawaii’s head coach.
And with the future of the program.
They know what works for WSU, which allowed Chun to quickly identify and hire his preferred candidate.
On Rolovich as the right fit, Chun noted:
“He has built his career the Coug way: grit, toughness, big heart, divergent thinking. But most importantly, what struck us is that he has a profound understanding what it means to be a head football coach. He’s a leader of young men. He’s a mentor. He’s teacher.”
Divergent thinking and insurgent warfare; football strategy and department culture.
3) We believe Rolovich is a smart hire, partly for the reasons laid out last week when the Hotline suggested that Rolovich would be a smart hire.
4) Washington State used a search firm, Ventura Partners, but it’s clear that Chun directed the operation.
Ventura handled back-channel communications and background checks, but it didn’t craft the candidate pool.
And that’s how it should work, when the athletic director is properly prepared.
“You can use a search firm, but you better be careful,’’ former Utah athletic director Chris Hill, who hired Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham, told the Hotline this week during a discussion about the art and science behind hiring a football coach.
“This day and age, the firms have a stable of candidates … But they don’t know you, and they aren’t going to do in-depth research as to what the person is like. You can’t let them run it.”
As was the case with the WSU basketball search that landed Kyle Smith — that looks pretty good right now — Chun was clearly in charge.
5) Washington State allocated $7.25 million to football salaries in 2019, with about half going to Leach (based on the figures available in USA Today’s salary database).
Rolovich reportedly will earn $3 million annually, or $750,000 less than Leach collected.
That savings, at least the initial savings, likely will be used to offset the logistical costs associated with the coaching change — for instance: moving assistants from Hawaii to Pullman.
Beyond that, any savings will be reinvested in football operations.
6) Hiring an offensive-minded coach was essential.
At their best over the decades, the Cougars have relied on dynamic offense (Dennis Erickson, Mike Price, Leach) and high-level quarterback play (Jack Thompson, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, Gardner Minshew).
Rolovich operates the run-and-shoot, which requires the same roster structure as the Air Raid — both need loads of receivers — and should make for a fairly seamless transition with personnel.
The end result might look different, however: Hawaii had 200 more rushing plays last season than did WSU.
“The run-pass percentage will be different,” Rolovich said.
“I don’t care if we run every time. I don’t care if we pass every time. I want to put it in the end zone. It’s not about style points for me.”
7) Rolovich was honest in his framing of expectations and the state of the program, which has made five consecutive bowl appearances and returns several top playmakers and most of its defense for 2020.
“This is not a rebuild,” he said. “This is an addition. All the permits are in place.”
He closed with a nod to Leach.
“The Pirate left his treasure in Pullman, and the X marks the spot here in Martin Stadium.”
Maintaining their recent level of success won’t be easy, especially with the momentum in pace (to varying degrees) at Oregon, Oregon State and Cal.
In many ways, Leach was the perfect coach with the perfect system for the Cougars.
But with the Rolovich hire, they gave themselves a chance.