Ex-Hawaii coach June Jones: I couldn't convince WSU coach Nick Rolovich to get COVID-19 vaccine

Former Hawaii coach June Jones says that he was unable to convince Washington State coach Nick Rolovich to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rolovich and Jones are close after Rolovich played for Jones at Hawaii and took over as the team's coach following Jones' retirement. Rolovich is in his second season as Washington State's coach and all state of Washington employees are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. 

Jones told USA Today that Rolovich is unvaccinated despite his best efforts to persuade him to get the vaccine. He told the newspaper that Rolovich has applied for a religious exemption. 

“He and I have had six or seven conversations over the last 60 days, and my advice is for him to take the shot,” said Jones, a former NFL head coach who coached quarterback Rolovich at the University of Hawaii in 2000 and 2001. “There’s too much at stake to risk losing his job, and it’s an unfortunate situation. It may be against what he believes obviously, but there are more people at stake – the university’s credibility, the lives of the assistant coaches and their families. There’s a whole bunch more at stake than just him, and that’s exactly what I told him.”

Rolovich could lose his job

Simply put, Rolovich faces the prospect of losing his job if his religious exemption is not granted and is the only Power Five coach in college football in this potentially tenuous situation. The San Jose Mercury News outlined the religious exemption process earlier in the week if Rolovich would apply for an exemption.

At some point prior to Oct. 18, a team of at least two people trained in the exemption review process will determine if Rolovich’s requests meet the standard for approval established by WSU (in conjunction with the state attorney general’s office).

As with all other exemption requests — the university has received hundreds of them — Rolovich’s name and department are not visible to those reviewing the application. The blind review was designed to create fairness for employees across all WSU campuses, regardless of position or salary.

Rolovich's application for exemption would be approved in two steps. If it's approved in the blind review it would to go the athletic department. The department would then determine if Rolovich could complete the duties of the Washington State head football coach without being vaccinated given the numerous public duties of a Power Five football coach.

If Rolovich's exemption is denied, he would have the option to get vaccinated by Oct. 18 and be placed on unpaid leave until he is fully vaccinated. If he refuses to do so, he could get fired. A state employee in Washington is considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 two weeks after the final dose of a two-dose vaccination or two weeks after the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccination.

Washington State president Kirk Schulz has previously said that Rolovich would not be getting special treatment from the school. 

Rolovich has only said he'd comply with mandate

Rolovich has refused to talk in detail about his decision to not get vaccinated. His decision became known over the summer when he was the only coach unable to attend Pac-12 media day in person because he wasn't vaccinated.

Rolovich has said multiple times that he would comply with the Washington state mandate and has refused to answer numerous questions from reporters to explain his vaccination stance. That stance is important for the public to know as Rolovich is the highest-paid state employee. He makes $3.5 million a year. And if the school ultimately does part ways with him because of the vaccine mandate, he could be fired for cause and not receive any of his buyout.