A quick and concise search to find the next football coach at Washington State apparently ended Monday night.
Earlier in the week, a Spokesman-Review source indicated the Cougars had been targeting Nick Rolovich to replace Mike Leach after eight seasons and WSU effectively hired the successful Hawaii coach on Monday, making him the 33rd coach in program history.
Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported the news minutes after the national championship game concluded between LSU and Clemson.
Rolovich is in line for a substantial pay raise in the Pac-12. The coach has signed a five-year deal that’s set to pay him $3 million annually, according to Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports. Rolovich made $600,000 in his final season at Hawaii. Leach, who left for Mississippi State last week, earned $3.75 million last year and was set to receive a retention bonus of $750,000 had he stayed through the 2020 football season.
WSU didn’t make a formal announcement Monday, but Hawaii Athletics Director David Matlin released a statement indicating Rolovich had informed the Rainbow Warriors of his decision to coach the Cougars.
“Nick called me tonight to inform me that he accepted the Washington State job,” Matlin said. “Our football program is in a better place today because of Nick and we wish him all the best. Our search for our next head coach begins immediately.”
Rolovich also changed his Twitter profile, @NickRolovich, to reflect his new job and posted a photo of a Cougar grasping onto a tree.
Director of Athletics Pat Chun also hinted at Rolovich’s arrival, tweeting a photo of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas – the future of the Pac-12 football championship game – with a caption reading, “The future is here! #GoCougs”
A Spokesman-Review source said Rolovich was attending the AFCA Annual Convention in Nashville, but left the meeting to meet with Chun. At that point the interview was merely a formality, the source said.
Rolovich was thought by many to be a candidate to replace Leach, who left for Mississippi State last week, and the coach’s name began gaining traction on social media over the last few days leading up to tonight’s news. Other candidates for the job included former WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, though sources suggested Grinch wasn’t interested in a return to the Palouse and it’s unclear if Chun met with Harsin to discuss the position.
The fourth-year Hawaii coach is set to become a Power Five coach for the first time in his career and comes off his best season in Honolulu, leading the Rainbow Warriors to 10 wins and a divisional title in the Mountain West Conference. Hawaii dropped the MWC title game to Boise State, but clinched its 10th win, beating BYU 38-34 in the Hawaii Bowl. The Rainbow Warriors went 28-27 in Rolovich’s four seasons at the helm, but 18-11 in the last two.
As Rolovich takes over for Leach, the run and shoot offense is set to replace the Air Raid, which gave the Cougars bounds of offensive success the last eight seasons. Both offenses are rooted in throwing the football, which should make for an easier transition over the next seven months as the Cougars prepare for the 2020 season and Rolovich’s first game at WSU, against an old Mountain West foe, Utah State, on Sept. 5 in Logan.
While the run and shoot is primarily a passing offense, the Rainbow Warriors managed to strike a decent balance and didn’t necessarily abandon the run game. Hawaii’s 635 pass attempts ranked second nationally, behind only WSU, but the Rainbow Warriors still finished 100th in rushing offense at 133 yards per game on 421 attempts while the Cougars were last with 210 rushing attempts and second-to-last at 68.1 yards per game.
Last season, Hawaii ranked 13th nationally in total offense, at 471 yards per game, and 24th in scoring offense, at 33.9 points per game. The Cougars were the only team in the country to pass the ball more than the Rainbow Warriors the last two seasons.
The 40-year-old Rolovich spent four years at Hawaii as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, mentoring 5,000-yard passer Bryant Moniz in his first stint, and moved within the Mountain West in 2012 to become an OC and QB coach at Nevada under Chris Ault.
The run and shoot offense Rolovich employs is the same one that’s used at Honolulu’s Saint Louis High School, which recently won a state championship with WSU QB signee Jayden de Laura. Rolovich and the Rainbow Warriors were the first FBS school to offer de Laura, who eventually signed with WSU over Ohio State, USC and others.
“I’m pumped,” de Laura told KHON TV’s Rob DeMello in an interview Monday evening at the Polynesian Bowl. “It’s the exact same offense we ran in high school, stuff I’m familiar with and just can’t wait to get out there.”
Rolovich also has strong connections to City College of San Francisco and should be able to maintain WSU’s pipeline to the junior college powerhouse in Northern California. Rolovich was a two-time JC All-American QB for the Rams and returned to coach the position at CCSF in 2006-07. Anthony Gordon, Easop Winston Jr, Robert Valencia, Derrick Langford, Robert Taylor and Shalom Luani all played at CCSF before joining the Cougars.
A native of Daly City, California, Rolovich is married to Analea, his college sweetheart, and has four children.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Cougs newsletter
Get the latest Cougs headlines delivered to your inbox as they happen.