Rival schools — University of Washington and Washington State University — both lost their head football coaches within a 30-day period. On October 19, WSU terminated coach Nick Rolovich due to his vaccination status, and just this past week, UW fired coach Jimmy Lake.
Cougars lose their head coach to state-wide vaccine mandate
Last month, Washington State University, UW’s rival school, fired Nick Rolovich for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As his unvaccinated status violates Gov. Inslee’s mandate for state employees, WSU had no choice but to let him go.
WSU’s press release also stated that Rolovich’s four assistant coaches — Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann, and Mark Weber — were terminated for the same reason.
In the press release, WSU Athletic Director Pat Chung said, “This is a disheartening day for our football program. Our priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of the young men on our team.”
“The leadership on our football team is filled with young men of character, selflessness and resiliency and we are confident these same attributes will help guide this program as we move forward.”
WSU President Kirk Scholz also issued a statement, focusing his remarks on the mandate. “While much has been made of the relatively small number of university employees who are not complying with the Governor’s mandate, we are immensely gratified that nearly 90 percent of WSU employees and 97 percent of our students are now vaccinated,” he said.
“WSU students, faculty, and staff understand the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks so that we can safely return to in-person learning and activities. I am proud of all those members of our community who have set the example and taken the steps to protect not just themselves, but their fellow Cougs,” Scholz concluded.
Rolovich noted his decision to refuse vaccination earlier this year when he participated remotely in a Pac-12 conference that required in-person participants to be vaccinated.
Before the conference began, Rolovich tweeted the following statement:
I have elected not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for reasons which will remain private. While I have made my own decision, I respect that every individual — including our coaches, staff, and student-athletes — can make his or her own decision regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. I will not comment further on my decision.
The Cougar’s defensive coordinator Jake Dickert has been acting head coach since Rolovich’s departure.
Rolovich appeals termination
Rolovich’s appeal claims university HR recommended approving his religious exemption, but the athletic department said it wouldn’t be able to accommodate it. pic.twitter.com/kUDITcNW5o
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) November 4, 2021
The appeal recounts Rolovich’s application for religious exemption in September, just after Gov. Inslee announced the October 18 deadline for state employees to get vaccinated.
On October 6, according to the appeal, WSU’s Human Resources Services (HRS) determined that Rolovich was entitled to his exemption because he articulated his “sincerely held religious belief.”
Afterward, HRS prepared precautionary COVID-19 measures Rolovich would have to follow in place of vaccination and sent said recommendations to the Athletics Department. However, the Athletics Department ultimately rejected the proposal and even challenged the approval of Rolovich’s religious exemption.
The appeal recounts the Athletics Department’s argument against Rolovich’s exemption, the basis of which was that “Rolovich had made several statements that cast doubt on his claimed sincerely held religious belief.”
The flip-flop of approval leads to the appeals primary claim that “The University’s procedural detours are as disturbing as they are unlawful.”
Click here to read Chris Vannini’s Twitter thread on the matter.
Athletic Director fires Husky’s head football coach
Rolovich isn’t the only coach to get canned this fall as UW’s Athletics Director Jen Cohen fired head football coach Jimmy Lake on November 13, before Lake could finish his second season.
According to Cohen, the termination conversation was “professional.”
In 2019, Lake was Cohen’s top pick to replace Chris Petersen. “I had so much confidence in him I really believed he was the best person for the job,” she said during a zoom conference the day after Lake’s termination. “I’m just disappointed and really sad that this has not worked out.”
During the conference, Cohen was pelted repeatedly by the same question: Why did you fire him? Cohen never did offer any details, simply stating and restating that “it wasn’t just one thing” and that she made the decision after a holistic evaluation.
“These decisions are always difficult and in this case, complicated,” she said. “It was a combination of things, and I came to the conclusion that I just didn’t have confidence in Coach Lake’s ability to lead the program moving forward.”
It is believed by some, including a few who questioned Cohen during the conference, that Lake’s termination is linked to a sideline incident during their November 6 game against the University of Oregon.
After a brief rift between players, Lake shoved and swatted at Huskies’ linebacker Ruperake Fuavai and was suspended immediately thereafter.
Jimmy Lake pops Ruperake Fuavai in the helmet and shoves him for getting into it with Jaylon Redd on the sideline pic.twitter.com/7AdSuugGe3
— Ralph Amsden (@ralphamsden) November 7, 2021
Lake would later comment on the incident, saying, “I separated him. I did not strike him. I separated him.”
NFL Analyst and former professional quarterback Ryan D. Leaf spoke with King 5’s Steve Bunin about the incident. “There’s no reason why I thought he should have been suspended,” he said. “The reason he’s being suspended is because of the backlash from the fan base.”
Leaf concluded his remarks predicting the suspension would mark Lake’s exit.
When asked if the suspension and termination were connected, Cohen said, “The decision to terminate was a completely different decision based on a holistic review.”
Cohen made it clear that the university will honor the terms of Lake’s contract, putting UW on the hook for about $9 million, according to the Associated Press. In the 13 games Lake coached, the Huskies went 7 – 6.
While defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will serve as interim coach for the last two games of the season, Cohen stated that UW has already begun searching for Lake’s replacement.