Exclusive: Ex-WSU Coach Rolovich slams firing over vaccine mandate
Nov 16, 2022, 12:08 PM | Updated: 12:47 pm
Former Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich was fired as WSU’s coach for failing to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate that all state workers be vaccinated for COVID-19. Now he’s filing a lawsuit saying his rights were violated.
Rolovich is Catholic and said in the lawsuit that he applied for a religious exemption from the vaccine requirement, but that exemption was denied and he was fired. Now the lawsuit alleges the university owes Rolovich for breach of contract, discrimination, and wrongful withholding of wages, as well as violations of the Civil Rights Act and the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.rant
Oct. 2021: New report details behind-the-scenes saga leading up to firing of WSU football coach Nick Rolovich
Rolovich: Getting let go at WSU “changed my perspective on life”
“I think that everyone should have a choice like it is on every other vaccine,” Rolovich told The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH. “I got a little blowback from that.
“I was so deep with my conscience. It really was an enlightening time for me spiritually and I’m glad I went forward through it for that reason,” Rolovich said. “I think it’s changed my perspective on life very much.”
The lawsuit was filed against the university, Athletic Director Pat Chun, and Gov. Jay Inslee. It says the defendants violated Rolovich’s “constitutional, statutory and contractual rights,” causing him “significant and ongoing damages.”
Rolovich was the highest-paid state employee at the time making $3.2 million dollars. He was fired with cause in Oct. 2021.
“Right now, I just want to coach football and get what I think I’m owed,” Rolovich explained. “I didn’t hold the gun to their head and say 3 million a year. They offered it, and I just said, yes.”
Says he didn’t get vaccine for ‘religious reasons’
Rolovich said he should have made public the fact that he didn’t want to get the vaccine for religious reasons sooner.
Rolovich said he is “a pretty honest guy, I’m not trying to trick or manipulate people.”
Rolovich described how Chun wanted him to get the vaccine at the 50-yard line with all of his players standing around him. “I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ I have no desire to do that. I wasn’t going to make it a circus.”
When Rantz asked what Rolovich thought was behind decisions being made at the school during the pandemic. “In my opinion, a lot of decisions were made for money, and for monetary reasons, in the school, the athletic department, and in other places.
“Whether it was fear, whether it was misinformation, this storyline, the narrative was changing, at minimum, weekly, sometimes daily. Decisions were being made, I think, initially, to get a football season played and keep our guys safe,” Rolovich said. “But then cracks in the story started coming out. And, I think it was more just to make sure the money’s good.”
Requirements during the pandemic always changing
Rolovich described the process of his termination.
“In August, there was an opportunity to check a box for personal and religious exemptions,” Rolovich said. “Myself and all the coaches clicked that box.”
A short time later, Inslee took away the personal exemption, and “it started getting a little bit more contentious.”
He said that led to several meetings with the athletic director and HR representative that led to the dismissal of Rolovich.
“It was an evolution of discussions because the rules kept changing,” Rolovich explained. “A bunch of kids got COVID-19 because they didn’t want to wear masks, and then they have to put masks on again. Nothing was really straight up.”
Rolovich told Rantz that players were given religious exemptions in games and practices with coaches who weren’t.
Rantz asked Rolovich if people at WSU were accepting of his decision.
The decision changed his relationship with ‘everybody’
“It was what you valued, right? A lot of people valued the money, and a lot of people valued the opportunity. Some said you ruined it for yourself and everybody else,” Rolovich explained. “Then there’s some that believe that it was up to each individual to make that decision.”
He said that his decision not to take the vaccine pitted friends against friends and it changed his relationship with everybody.
“It shows you who’s in your corner. There’s a group that got the shot because they wanted it, and they wanted to protect themselves. Then there’s a group that got the shot so they can keep their job.”
Rantz wanted to know if the rules were being evenly applied.
Rolovich answered, “I think because of my status, this was not something they wanted to deal with. I was even told the security cameras in the building were checking if you had a mask on where you walked down the hallway. The nonsense was nonstop.”
Washington State officials issued a statement Monday saying the lawsuit was “wholly without merit.”
“Washington State University carried out the Governor’s COVID-19 vaccination proclamation for state employees in a fair and lawful manner, including in its evaluation of employee requests for medical or religious exemptions and accommodations. For multiple reasons, Mr. Rolovich did not qualify, and the university firmly stands by that decision,” the statement said.
Rolovich does not regret his decision
Rantz said now that the lawsuit is being filed, the irony is that if Rolovich is successful, it’ll end up costing WSU more than it would have had they fulfilled his contract and the contract of others.
“They could have let me go without cause, and just we shake hands and disagree,” he said.
That would have meant that Rolovich would have received his buyout of $3.6 million.
“Then I would have gone away, we’re not having this conversation and, hopefully, coaching somewhere,” Rolovich said. “But now, I’m like a leper.”
Rantz asked Rolovich if he would have made the same decision if he were head coach at a more prestigious program like Notre Dame.
“I would make the same decision if I was the head coach at high school,” he explained. “The only thing I regret to be honest with you, is, is not coming out and talking about the religious exemption earlier. Other than that, I have no regrets. History is written in the present, you know, we’ll see how this all shakes out in the future. But I don’t I don’t have any regrets about not doing it.”
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