Washington State football is something else entirely under second-year head coach Nick Rolovich.
Already, a program that had become a consistent bowl-bound team, albeit one that couldn’t beat in-state rival Washington under departed former coach Mike Leach, has turned into an underachieving, confounding and exasperating mess.
And that’s just on the field.
Leach had his own moments that would make you cringe: calling out the entire offensive line to face reporters’ questions after a blowout loss at Utah, his labeling of his players as corpses and his discussion of their “fat little girlfriends” was ugly. Then, he failed to realize the Apple Cup is the prime directive for the Cougar football faithful and any number of other performances that would make your head shake out of detached bemusement or disgust.
With Rolovich, it’s all of the latter.
Witness Saturday’s Jekyll and Hyde performance against USC — a game that saw WSU look brilliant on its 89-yard first drive to a score, with plenty of touches for standout running back Max Borghi.
The Cougs were up 14-0 late in the first half, and it could have been more if WSU had made anything out of a first-and-goal opportunity at the USC 1-yard line or a fumble recovery at the Trojans’ 36, or not made a coverage mistake and allowed USC to cut the deficit to 14-7 at halftime on a fourth down play.
Those first-half lapses only set the table for more of that quality Rolovich decision-making we’ve come to know.
With quarterback Jayden de Laura hurt, Rolovich rolled the dice on a walk-on QB instead of Cammon Cooper, another QB who held at least one SEC scholarship offer from Georgia.
The walk-on eventually was sacked and fumbled in the end zone for a Trojans’ score, part of a 35-0 second-half drubbing.
Rolovich only has coached seven games in his Cougars’ tenure. He’s 2-5, and in four of those losses, the Cougs have held good-sized leads before … well, Couging it.
Offensive lineman Abraham Lucas compared the team to a UFC fighter in a postgame interview.
“We’re a team that has a good initial punch but not really a chin,” Lucas said.
“If you come out in a fight, and you hit ’em a couple of times, and it’s great, and everything is rah-rah, and then you get hit and just fold, that’s the mark of a sad fighter. … There’s lots of reasons for that. But if we’re not excited to play, why are we out there in the first place?”
Coupled with his absolute void of leadership in regard to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, a decision which puts a team that doesn’t need more hurdles at a competitive disadvantage each and every week, the Rolovich era has quickly become an embarrassment.
WSU opened a medical school in the last decade, the Spokane-based Elson Floyd School of Medicine. Rolovich’s disdain for medical science is an affront to those efforts, and his inability to see that is an issue.
And there’s the lawsuit filed against Rolovich by former wide receiver Kassidy Woods, who sat out the 2020 season due to pandemic-related health concerns.
When Rolovich and Woods had a conversation about this in August 2020, the lawsuit said Rolovich “responded not to Woods’ health concerns, but by asking if Woods was a part of the #WeAreUnited group,” a group of players that was advocating for social and racial justice issues, including pandemic safety protocols.
When Woods confirmed he was part of the group, Rolovich is alleged to have asked Woods to clean out his locker room because his involvement would send “mixed messages to the team.”
None of this negative attention is helping: the Cougars have just seven verbal commitments for the 2022 recruiting class, tied for 11th in the Pac-12 Conference.
Those halcyon first days as head coach when Rolovich set up a bar tab at a Seattle Cougar sports bar or when he realized the impact of pandemic shutdowns on the Pullman economy and purchased meals at a number of restaurants, have long since vanished.
He’s out of his depth as a coach, out of his element as a leader and on a collision course with the Oct. 18 deadline for state university employees to receive a vaccine shot or request a religious or personal exemption.
If no jab, hopefully, he’ll be out of a job Oct. 19. Or sooner.