Nick Rolovich has thus far declined to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but as a result of a new state mandate, the Washington State football coach may be required to get one.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that employees working in various educational roles — from early learning to higher education — must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment. College contractors such as coaches and athletic trainers are not exempt.
Exceptions are limited to “legitimate medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs,” according to a news release.
Otherwise, “individuals who refuse to get vaccinated will be subject to dismissal,” per the release. Rolovich has not revealed the reason behind being unvaccinated.
WSU’s athletic department released a statement shortly after the announcement, pledging to adhere to the mandate.
“We applaud the efforts of Governor Inslee to protect the health and safety of the people of Washington,” it said.
“Washington State Athletics, including staff, coaches and student-athletes, will continue to follow all campus, local, state, Pac-12 and NCAA guidelines related to health and safety surrounding COVID-19 and we will work to ensure the mandates in the Governor’s Proclamation are followed.”
Rolovich tweeted July 21 that he would not be appearing in person at the Pac-12’s media day because he had elected not to receive a vaccine “for reasons which will remain private.”
The second-year Cougar coach’s decision made national news. It was divisive — met with backlash from many who viewed it as selfish, and support from others who argued that it was a matter of personal choice.
Inslee responded to Rolovich’s decision less than a week later.
“Anybody in a leadership position in the state of Washington, I believe, has an obligation to lead and use their leadership position to save lives,” Inslee said, as reported by The Associated Press. “Governors, senators, football coaches — help lead. Lead the effort to defeat COVID.”
Rolovich has been wearing a mask and following physical-distancing protocols during fall camp practices. He was asked Aug. 9 if a state mandate would encourage him to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We’re doing everyday testing; we’re following all the rules that are put in place,” he said. “I don’t know what exactly it’s going to say, but it’s something definitely to always consider.”
Inslee announced Aug. 9 that most state employees and health-care workers would be required to receive a vaccine, but that mandate didn’t cover K-12 or higher education institutions.
According to a report from Jon Wilner of the (San Jose) Mercury News, 80% of WSU’s football players have been vaccinated — the lowest vaccination rate among the 10 Pac-12 programs that reported results.
At least seven Pac-12 teams have surpassed the mark of 90%, while two others are over 85%. Vaccination numbers for Arizona State and Cal were unavailable.
Rolovich is the only unvaccinated head football coach in the Pac-12.
At the conference’s media day, he said he would “wholeheartedly support” those within the WSU program who choose to be vaccinated. Rolovich also commended the state for its high vaccination rates.
“I’m not against vaccinations,” he said, later adding: “I don’t mean to cause any heartache to this university or this athletic department or this state.”
It’s unclear how many Cougar coaches have received the vaccine. Multiple assistants wear masks daily at practices.
On the same day Rolovich announced his decision, WSU president Kirk Schulz wrote on the school’s website that “Washington State University expects all students, faculty, staff and volunteers to be fully vaccinated before the start of the fall semester.” Rolovich and school administrators have had conversations that athletic director Pat Chun characterized simply as “long.”
Rolovich was not available to the media Wednesday afternoon after the mandate was announced and did not release any new statement about his status regarding the vaccine.