Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich confirmed a report published Saturday by USA TODAY Sports that said he was seeking a religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for state and university employees.
After Washington State defeated Oregon State 31-24, Rolovich addressed the issue in his postgame news conference and appeared to express displeasure at his mentor and former coach at Hawaii, June Jones, who revealed Rolovich’s vaccination status this week in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.
Rolovich, 42, apparently didn’t like how the news came out after he tried to keep the matter private for so long despite the risk it posed for his high-profile job amid a public health crisis. Jones, a former NFL head coach, said in the interview that Rolovich had applied for a religious exemption and that he had urged Rolovich to get vaccinated for the sake of his job and others. Rolovich played quarterback for Jones at Hawaii in 2000 and 2001.
“I’ll confirm that,” Rolovich said of the report. “Not terribly happy with the way it happened. I just hope there’s no player that I coach has to wake up and feel the way I felt today.”
He said he didn’t think it was “malicious, but that wasn’t a great thing to wake up to, to be honest with you.”
Rolovich could lose his job if his application is denied, but he said he hasn’t heard back yet about its status. State employees face an Oct. 18 deadline to be fully vaccinated or get an approved medical or religious exemption.
In July, Rolovich announced that that he had elected not to get vaccinated for private reasons and then refused to discuss his vaccination status after that despite frequent questions about it amid the mandate.
He is the only head coach in major college football to publicly say he wasn’t getting vaccinated.
After the game, a reporter asked him about whether the last few months were an uncomfortable experience for him, especially with the deadline coming up.
“You think it’s been a fun time?” Rolovich said. “Of course it’s been difficult for everybody. Players are going through some of the same things. It’s an incredible stress, for especially the young people.”
At WSU, applications for a religious exemption are reviewed by a committee and are “blinded” so that the reviewers don’t know who the applicant is, according to university spokesman Phil Weiler.
In the application process, applicants are asked to explain what tenets of their religious practice prevent them from being vaccinated and why they consider this to be a “sincerely held belief,” Weiler said.
Rolovich faces another hurdle if his application is approved.
If an exemption is granted, the applicant is re-identified, then another committee reviews the individual’s job responsibilities to determine if public health and safety are served by having an unvaccinated person serving in that role, Weiler said.
Rolovich comes from a Catholic family and attended Marin Catholic High School in the San Francisco Bay Area.
He is in his second season at WSU, which improved to 3-3 with Saturday’s victory.
His quarterback, Jayden de Laura, said WSU players support Rolovich.
“Players, we have no issue with coach Rolo,” de Laura said Saturday. “We have no issue with any of our coaches. We respect their decisions.”