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Washington State’s Nick Rolovich discusses installation of offense, recruiting impact of COVID-19 during S-R forum

Even though COVID-19 has kept them away from Martin Stadium for an indefinite period of time, the Washington State Cougars have been taking a virtual crash course in Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense, hoping they’ll be better prepared when they get the green light to resume normal football activities.

But for now, “normal” looks a little different.

“I think offensively, yes, there’s some installing going,” said Rolovich, who was named WSU’s 33rd football coach on Jan. 13. “There was some installation going just talking about schemes with our guys before we were scheduled to have spring ball. But this has given us a chance to really harp on the details of the foundation of what we want to do offensively. Landmarks, splits, releases. And not really throw a bunch of concepts at them, but really get the foundation.

“They’re getting a little bit more every day. But the opportunity to give them quizzes has seemed to be a positive for our coaching staff, also working with Blackboard. … It’s really forced coaches to get outside their comfort zone in their teaching approach. A lot of the day is spent recruiting at this time, too.”

During a 50-minute conversation on the Northwest Passages Virtual Forum Wednesday afternoon, Rolovich broke down the offensive scheme that manufactured 34 points per game last season at Hawaii and covered a wide range of topics including the recruiting implications of coronavirus, his policy on open practices and how he’ll measure success in his first season as WSU’s coach.

A replay of the full conversation can be found at

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

It’ll be crucial for the Cougars to “buy in” to the new offensive system, Rolovich said, but he expects there will also be some carryover from the Air Raid Mike Leach employed in the eight years prior, which could help ease the learning curve.

“For all of (the positions), it’s belief in the system,” Rolovich said. “This is not a situation where we’re coming in after an inept offense. These are guys that are used to production, they’re used to putting the ball in the end zone. We understand that.”

For the WSU quarterbacks, it’ll be vital to maintain relationships with wide receivers – both on the field and away from it. The run-and-shoot offense is largely predicated on a receiver’s ability to diagnose a coverage and alter his route accordingly, so it’s essential QBs and WRs are on the same page.

“That’s important and we encourage it a bunch,” Rolovich said. “Accuracy and it really comes down to who moves the ball down the field and puts it into the end zone.”

When the Cougars are back on the field, the two returning scholarship QBs – redshirt sophomore Cammon Cooper and redshirt freshman Gunner Cruz – will be challenged by incoming freshman Jayden de Laura, who grew familiar with the run-and-shoot while playing at Honolulu’s Saint Louis High. How the Cougars divvy up reps to identify a starter will be something Rolovich evaluates as fall practice approaches.

“I think you’ve got to try to get three guys ready, so there will be a lot of routes on air, so there will be a lot of opportunities for throws,” Rolovich said. “We really do need to evaluate our process because without spring ball, you don’t have those 15 practices and you don’t have those reps for all those quarterbacks. So, it’s looking more and more like we won’t get that spring ball and we’ll get some kind of fall camp with everybody. … I would like to give everyone a chance, and everyone will have an opportunity to throw the ball, so they’ll have opportunities to show what they’ve got.”

COVID-19 prompted the NCAA to implement a recruiting dead period, limiting coaches to phone, text and social media communication with potential prospects.

“What I’ve learned is, I think people need to get to Washington State to really appreciate the fullness of its greatness,” Rolovich said. “I think we would’ve liked to have a bunch of kids on campus by now and I think – again, we can’t control it – that’s one of the things where I’ve learned is, if people come here I think they have a much greater appreciation for the values, the opportunities, the environment than what they perceive from afar.”

For now, Rolovich’s staff has adjusted. The coach’s family traveled to Pullman for spring break and opted not to return home to Hawaii due to coronavirus-related travel concerns. Rolovich’s twin boys – William and Patrick, born in 2013 – “are helping me write letters to recruits,” the coach said, “so that’ll be good, they get their handwriting in and their coloring in.”

“It’s different for the recruits to get a kid’s drawing on a card. Maybe it’ll brighten their day.”

Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith will be featured on the Northwest Passages Virtual Forum at 2 p.m. Friday.

Author Theo Lawson conducted the virtual interview with Nick Rolovich for the Northwest Passages forum on Wednesday.