Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now

Roll on: ‘Hard work’ up next for new Washington State coach Nick Rolovich, Cougar football players

Washington State coach Nick Rolovich, left, speaks at his introductory press conference on Jan. 16, 2020 in Pullman, Wash. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Analea Rolovich and her husband took in the first half of Washington State’s basketball upset of No. 8 Oregon Thursday night. The two showed up a few minutes in, walked the perimeter of the floor, shook some hands and waved to a larger-than-usual crowd at Beasley Coliseum as they were escorted to their courtside seats.

For the next 40 minutes, Analea and Nick Rolovich enjoyed a brief recess from their hectic day in Pullman. No pressing phone calls to take, no grand introductions to make, no big-picture questions to answer, no dire coaching matters to attend to. Just college hoops.

Rolovich pumped his fist whenever the Cougars got a defensive stop, he rose to his feet when they buried a 3-pointer and, most of all, he blended in with the crowd of 3,082 like he was just another fan.

It was that persona, energy and charisma that initially drew the Cougars to Rolovich, and the undying pride of a college community in the middle of nowhere that attracted Rolovich to the Cougars.

“We were able to move quick, but however long this was going to take, it was going to take,” athletics director Pat Chun said. “Once we specced out what we believed the profile of our new head coach needs to be, and once you sit down with him and how he matched up with that spec, it was a no-brainer.”

When halftime came at Beasley Coliseum, Rolovich was invited to midcourt to address the audience – “I came to the right place,” he said, after Chun recited Gardner Minshew’s popular “We’ve never lost a party” line from the 2018 Alamo Bowl – and WSU’s brand-new football coach was whisked away shortly thereafter.

Business calls.

“He’s a very hard worker,” Analea Rolovich said earlier in the day after her 40-year-old husband was formally introduced to a crowd of almost 300 fans, boosters, reporters, football players and athletic administrators. “I’ve barely seen him since we’ve arrived here, so he’s just hit the ground running. He’s just excited. He’s going to do everything in his power to make things work (and) just do things the right way.”

Analea, who met her husband while the two were attending the University of Hawaii, said she’ll return to Honolulu and the couple’s four kids Friday, while Nick settles into what guarantees to be one of the busiest jobs in college football these next few months.

“We’ll probably be (in Hawaii) for several months, so that’ll be a good time for him to kind of just pretty much work 24/7,” Analea said. “Which is good; he needs to do that right now.”

For Rolovich, this is what a good head start looks like: traveling from Las Vegas to Pullman by private jet Tuesday to get his first aerial view of the Palouse, holding a short but powerful meeting with his new players, assembling a good portion of his offensive staff and contacting the recruits who’ve spent a good part of the past week in limbo since Mike Leach accepted the job at Mississippi State.

“It’s kind of like a drug. I remember doing this for Hawaii, it’s like, I remember this feeling,” Rolovich said. “It is what it is, and I actually like it. It’s a nice change. I like testing myself mentally. That’s why I think a lot of people like the game. You get to that lobster shell, right? You pop it off and grow another one. This is one of those moments for me.”

It’s a new challenge – and theoretically an easier one – for Rolovich, who spent the past four years overhauling a once-downtrodden Hawaii program that won 28 games the past four seasons after winning just 11 in the four previous seasons.

The Cougars are already a well-oiled machine, winning six games in what most considered a “down year.” Rolovich will be expected first to sustain and then to build upon the program Leach resurrected eight years ago.

“Sky’s the limit, I expect real big things,” linebacker Jahad Woods said. “It’s definitely going to be a turnaround from last year, and it’s going to be a complete difference. You’ll be able to tell.”

On that same note, nose tackle Dallas Hobbs added, “With the new people coming in, we’ll have a new change, I think, and that’ll just, not rebuild like they said, but restart some stuff to get it moving back forward again,” he said. “And I think that’ll be beneficial for the program and we’ll see a major change in a lot of things.”

On Thursday, players raved about Rolovich’s authenticity and labeled him a players’ coach, suggesting that part would be a change from the last regime.

“He’s a real genuine coach, you can tell he’s a players’ coach,” Woods said. “It’s different than what we had previously, but he’s working to get to know us and having a relationship with us. Things like that.”

Rolovich called his first team meeting two days earlier, inviting cameras and members of the school’s social media team to the first portion of the chat, before sending them out so he could address players in a more personal setting.

“It was kind of funny, because he came in for the cameras and stuff, had his little spiel there,” Hobbs said. “Then kind of sent all them away and kind of gave us the real deal, and that was really beneficial, and I think it helped out a lot.”