Ex-Washington State coach Nick Rolovich to sue over firing

Former Washington State coach Nick Rolovich will be suing the university for illegal termination, in part because of "discriminatory and vindictive behavior" by athletic director Pat Chun, an attorney representing Rolovich said Wednesday.

Washington State fired Rolovich and four other assistant coaches Monday night after they refused to comply with a mandate that required all state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Gov. Jay Inslee had set a deadline of Monday for employees to be vaccinated or to receive an exemption and accommodations from their direct supervisors. WSU athletic director Chun on Monday said Rolovich's firing is a for-cause separation, noting that he could not meet the requirements in his contract, which paid him $3 million annually. Therefore, Rolovich will not continue to be paid by the school.

Brian Fahling, an attorney in Kenmore, Washington, who is representing Rolovich, confirmed in a statement to ESPN that Rolovich's request for a religious exemption based on his "devout" Catholic faith was denied by the university. Chun and WSU president Kirk Schulz on Monday would not confirm whether the exemption requests from Rolovich and the other coaches had been denied, saying only that Rolovich's request for accommodations could not be met. The university used a blind evaluation process for all exemption requests, where a two-person panel does not know each applicant's name or job title before making decisions.

Fahling accuses Chun of determining Rolovich would be fired as far back as April, four months before Inslee's vaccine mandate went into effect.

"Chun's animus towards Coach Rolovich's sincerely held religious beliefs, and Chun's dishonesty at the expense of Coach Rolovich during the past year, is damning and will be thoroughly detailed in litigation," Fahling's statement reads. "Chun's discriminatory and vindictive behavior has caused immeasurable harm to Coach Rolovich and his family."

Chun and Washington State officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rolovich never publicly detailed the reasons he wouldn't be vaccinated despite multiple media inquiries before and during the season. He expressed disappointment when June Jones, his former college coach at Hawaii, told USA Today that Rolovich had filed the exemption request based on his religious beliefs. Pope Francis and other Catholic leaders have encouraged Catholics and others to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with Pope Francis calling it an "act of love."

"It is a tragic and damning commentary on our culture, and more specifically, on Chun, that Coach Rolovich has been derided, demonized and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith," Fahling's statement reads.

Chun and Schulz said Monday that Rolovich and the other coaches had clear understanding of the mandate and the consequences for not complying, as well as education about the COVID-19 vaccine. Rolovich was in his second season as Cougars head coach.

"We've had conversations that date back months," Chun said Monday. "He was resolute in his stance and his right to make a choice. That choice did not put him in compliance with this proclamation from the governor, and that is why we sit here today."

Fahling accuses Washington State of being deceitful toward Rolovich, even if the coach's exemption request had been granted. He cited a "secret donor trip" that Chun had Rolovich attend in July 2020, before COVID-19 vaccines were publicly available. Fahling said that Chun and others contracted COVID-19 at the event, while Rolovich did not.

Reached Wednesday morning by ESPN, Fahling declined to elaborate on the accusations beyond the statement, which states that Rolovich, after being fired, was escorted to his car by university police and was not allowed to address the team.