New report details behind-the-scenes saga leading up to firing of WSU football coach Nick Rolovich

Oct 28, 2021, 7:48 AM | Updated: 11:24 am
Nick Rolovich...
Former WSU head football coach Nick Rolovich. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A new report from ESPN details the series of events that took place behind the scenes leading up to the termination of Washington State University head football coach Nick Rolovich.

Nick Rolovich laments distraction created by his COVID-19 vaccine decision

Rolovich and four of his assistant coaches were fired in mid-October for their refusal to comply with a newly-imposed vaccine mandate for state employees. But according to ESPN’s reporting, that was merely the culmination of a months-long saga dating back to April.

A week before WSU announced that it would be implementing a vaccine requirement for the school’s students and staff, a meeting was arranged between Rolovich and WSU Regents Professor of Pathology and Infectious Diseases Dr. Guy Palmer. Among a long list of accolades and achievements, Palmer previously helped shepherd the National Institute of Health’s training program for infectious diseases between 2003 and 2018, and received an NIH MERIT award for his research on pathogens.

The hope from Athletic Director Pat Chun was that having Rolovich speak to an independent medical professional would help the WSU football coach “be more trusting of the information and more comfortable with a dialogue where he could ask specific questions,” Dr. Palmer told ESPN.

Their conversation was said to have lasted roughly an hour, where Rolovich reportedly asked questions related to several anti-vaccine theories circulated on social media.

“Kind of typical ones: ‘Is Bill Gates involved with the vaccines? Does [Gates] hold a patent on the vaccines?'” Dr. Palmer recounted. “He asked whether SV40 is in the vaccines and whether that could be a dangerous thing. And the answer to that is no.”

In July, Rolovich was not allowed to attend a Pac-12 football media day, which required all in-person participants to be fully vaccinated, instead opting to take part remotely. The following month, he told reporters that he planned on “following (Inslee’s) mandate,” but did not indicate whether that meant he would be getting vaccinated, or petitioning for a religious or medical exemption.

Seattle fire chief reports high compliance with vaccine mandate

Rolovich later applied for a religious exemption, which his attorney claims was denied. As was noted in a lawsuit following his termination, Rolovich based his exemption on his status as a “devout Catholic,” although the Catholic Church has indicated that it is “morally acceptable” for its believers to receive the COVID vaccine, with the pope describing it as “an act of love.”

WSU’s own process surrounding religious exemptions involves a series of questions pertaining to an applicant’s “sincerely held religious belief,” and does not necessarily take into account the official stances of individual churches.

Rolovich’s lawsuit alleges that he was “derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith,” although if past legal challenges to Washington’s vaccine mandate are any indication, he could face an uphill battle in court.

Prior to his termination, Rolovich was the highest-paid state employee in Washington with a salary of $3 million per year. He was also the only unvaccinated head coach in the Pac-12.

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New report details behind-the-scenes saga leading up to firing of WSU football coach Nick Rolovich