Washington State football players got to see Nick Rolovich’s authenticity the first time he met with his new team, fewer than 48 hours after being hired in January.
The greater Pullman community got to see the coach’s gratitude when he purchased hundreds of meals from a variety of local restaurants facing a financial crunch during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
On Monday, two of his coaching peers in the Pac-12 – and more than 100 media members from the league’s immediate footprint, and some from outside of it – got to see Rolovich’s organic humor when the 41-year-old appeared on a Zoom video call sitting next to a taxidermy cougar named “Sharon” in his Pullman office.
Rolovich’s hire was, and continues to be, a popular one among the people that will be buying tickets to watch his team play, but Monday’s Pac-12 media webinar, which also featured USC’s Clay Helton and Stanford’s David Shaw, indicated the new WSU coach has also been embraced by the men who wear the same hat, share the same duties and live through many of the same experiences as him.
“I’ll say this, I thought what an unbelievable hire by Washington State, to have a Mike Leach that’s an offensive-minded, brilliant guy, big personality and soon as Rolo was hired it was like, wow what an awesome fit,” Helton said. “You’re talking about an extremely brilliant offensive guy that has also a personality that big and relates to kids. As soon as you saw that go across the wire, you were like, man that’s a really neat hire, that’s a really good fit. So Rolo, don’t change man, be yourself. … You got there for a reason being you.”
“Go after all those records, man, all those Mike Leach records,” Shaw said. “Break them all. Preferably against Clay and not me.”
Monday’s webinar, the first of four held with the conference’s coaches throughout the week, modeled what the Pac-12’s new media day could look like in a few months. Last week, it was learned the conference will hold the annual event virtually, rather than at the normal Hollywood & Highland venue in Los Angeles, and much of Monday’s Zoom discussion revolved around the sheer chance of there being a college football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic – and what that would look like if some schools or conferences decide it’s not safe to play while others do.
One model that could mitigate the spread of coronavirus while still resuming college football could be to play games in empty stadiums. While some have advocated for that concept, others have shot it down, stating that college football can’t exist without the atmosphere, pageantry and tradition that live crowds offer.
Rolovich and Helton were in unison when that topic came up Monday, agreeing that while empty stadiums are not ideal, it’s a contingency plan they’d be willing to accept if it meant the season was carried out as originally planned.
“I think it’d save a lot of time on silent count practice. There’s one,” Rolovich quipped. “I think in general if we feel it’s safe enough to play, then I’d like to play. I know the fans is part of the experience, I think it’s also part of the financial model. But that’s not in my job description, so we’re just trying to hopefully get some games this fall.”
Added Helton: “Part of college football is the passion of the fans and we love that, and that’s going to be the celebration. Whatever that time point is, when we’re all back together in a safe environment to be able to all enjoy the game. … I think when we do get the opportunity to put the ball down in a safe atmosphere, there’s just going to be a sense of gratitude among coaches and players that we get to play this game that we love.”
Other subjects covered during the approximately 30-minute video conversation included a hypothetical conference-only season, in which Pac-12 teams would eliminate the nonconference games on their schedule and only play against one another. For the Cougars, that would mean forgoing games at Utah State and at home against Idaho and Houston, but adding conference foes USC and Arizona to the 2020 schedule.
“It’s been discussed in our Pac-12 meetings and it’s been discussed by the commissioners,” Helton said. “That is one of the many structures as we go through this situation and this crisis. … Those are viable discussions.”
Rolovich has been reluctant to speak in detail about contingency plans for the looming season until the conference and its members come to a final verdict. So, when asked to comment on how a potential divide in decision-making among the Power Five conferences would impact the four-team College Football Playoff, the WSU coach refrained from speculating.
“In my mind I’m planning on playing Utah State Game One, so I don’t have a comment really about that (topic),” Rolovich said. “I’m optimistic about going with the 12 (games) we’ve got until they tell me differently.”