Religious exemption or not, Washington State coach loses job

Oct 19, 2021, 5:32 PM
football coach...
Washington State coach Nick Rolovich walks on the field after the team's NCAA college football game against Stanford, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. Washington State won 34-31. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
(AP Photo/Young Kwak)

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s be cougars vs. cougars on Saturday afternoon in Pullman, Wash. But the Washington State cats just lost their head football coach. Claiming a religious exemption did not protect his job, says a Utah defense attorney.

Coach’s Rolovich’s backstory

Second-year coach Nick Rolovich, 42, was terminated Monday for refusing to abide by the state vaccine mandate signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. The mandate required all state employees — including those at its public universities — to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Oregonian’s John Canzano reported that Rolovich had been terminated with cause. That means Washington State University doesn’t owe a buyout fee for the decision. 

Related: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints won’t provide vaccine exemptions

Washington State defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will serve as acting head coach, according to reporting from Sean Walker at KSL.com. He was the highest-paid state employee at about $3 million a year in a contract that runs through 2025.

And he is also the only unvaccinated coach in the Pac-12.

Rolovich revealed in July that he would not get vaccinated. He couldn’t attend Pac-12 media day in person because of it, according to ESPN.

Rolovich had applied for a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate, according to USA TODAY. His application was denied.

Hold onto your beliefs while looking for a new job

Utah defense attorney Greg Skordas joined KSL NewsRadio’s Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega to discuss religious exemptions and state mandates.

Debbie said if she walked away from a five-year, $3-million-a-year contract, her family would never speak to her again.

Related: Senator Lee working on exemptions to Biden vaccine mandate

“They’d be dragging me, kicking and screaming, to the vaccine clinic down the street,” she said.

“But I think there’s a chance your family will respect you for it because you’re standing up for what you believe in,” Dave said.

“I love your optimism,” she said. 

Debbie asked if Skordas would ever turn down $15 million for your beliefs.

“No one’s ever gonna offer me $15 million for anything,” he said. 

Then he added that a person can be appreciated for standing alongside their religious convictions. But he said the state’s position is that, yes, someone can hold onto their religious convictions all day long. But they may not be able to work their job anymore.

“That’s sort of where the law lands. That’s where we end up here when we’re talking about these vaccine mandates and a condition of continued employment,” Skordas said.

Can you be fired for holding onto a religious conviction?

“Aren’t you protected if you hold a religious conviction? You can’t be fired for that religious conviction,” Dave said.

An employee cannot be terminated for his or her religious convictions. But Skordas said that to safeguard the student-athletes and staff, it is not unreasonable for the employer — in this case the state of Washington — to require all who work in close proximity with others to be vaccinated against a deadly virus. Skordas said that if an employee disagrees, they are free to find work elsewhere.

Related: Constitutional scholars, Utah lawmakers push back on vaccine mandate

“That’s where the rubber hits the road,” Skordas said.

If you are a student-athlete whose religious conviction forbids participating in public athletic activities on Sundays, and you are hoping to play for a team that plays on Sundays, you probably won’t be a good fit for that team, Skordas said.

“But go live your religion, and go be proud of that,” Skordas said.


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Religious exemption or not, Washington State coach loses job