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Sports >  WSU football

John Blanchette: Seeing the right choice in Nick Rolovich’s vaccination saga requires no visionary

Oct. 9, 2021 Updated Sat., Oct. 9, 2021 at 8:22 p.m.

By John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – If you’ve never had cataract surgery, then you’ll have to trust someone who has.

But the split-screen image that you live with between getting the first eye done and the second is not unlike taking in the fortunes of the Washington State Cougars of late.

In the restored panorama of the new good eye, there can be some remarkable viewing – big-play explosiveness, some underrated physical siccum and a happy resiliency that all came together in a 31-24 victory over the Pac-12’s latest darlings, the Oregon State Beavers.

Wazzu’s darling, anyway. The Cougs have won eight straight in the series.

And in the yet unrepaired eye, well, there’s this big blur.

Some of it is made up of the on-field foibles similar to those from the Cougars’ 1-3 start to the season – on Saturday in particular, the two trips inside the OSU 10-yard line before halftime that produced zero (0) points, and seemed to have the Cougs clutching to that limb on the bank of a thundering river.

But a goodly part of the haze is due to Nick Rolovich, whose time as head coach could be over in as little as eight days.

Yes, here are the Cougs, back to the .500 mark and on an obvious uptick, with the future of their head coach in limbo because he can’t bring himself to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

He has repeatedly refused to say why. So we don’t know whether he believes there are microchips in the shot to track our thoughts and movements – the doctrine of Wingnut America – or whether he just thinks he’s Superman and the vax is Kryptonite.

We do know that he is seeking a religious exemption from the governor’s mandate that state employees be vaccinated that takes effect Oct. 18, as he confirmed it Saturday after a report in USA Today that cited his old coach, June Jones, as a source.

It also cited Jones’ exasperation in his old quarterback’s recalcitrance, quoting him as saying, “It’s like I told him: It’s not about him anymore.”

And Jones is right.

Among other petty things like public health, it’s about Rolovich’s football team which is forging some momentum, and coaxing back some of those fans put off by the early disasters.

For his part, Rolovich expressed dismay and even hurt about “the way it happened.

“I just hope there’s no player that I coach who has to wake up and feel the way I felt today. I’m sure it wasn’t malicious, but that wasn’t a great thing to wake up to.”

Yeah, getting ratted out and scolded by your mentor is a bummer. Then again, part of the mentoring compact is that they don’t always tell you what you want to hear.

And imagine what his players might feel like if he doesn’t get the exemption or the poke and they wake up to find WSU athletic director Pat Chun pulling the lever on the trap door, which he’s almost obliged to do.

Especially now that they seem to have a bit of rhythm and identity.

The Cougs have been treading water on the strength of a defense that bends a bit and has a knack for the timely turnover. They did it again Saturday, surrendering 309 yards to OSU’s powerful running attack, but making life hell on quarterback Chance Nolan. There were interceptions by George Hicks and Brennan Jackson on splendid plays, and the game-deciding stop by Hicks that kept Trey Lowe a yard short of payday – and mayday – with 33 seconds left.

But best of all, Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense finally joined the party. Quarterback Jayden de Laura was at his best, with a career-high 399 yards. The coaching staff won an important chess match – using empty-backfield formations to get the Beavers to commit fewer bodies in the box, then running through those gaps.

But for all the big plays, the most significant might have been Deon McIntosh carrying 237-pound Omar Speights 7 yards on WSU’s winning drive, one of the eight third downs the Cougs converted – in as many tries – in the second half.

So the horizon is crisp with clarity, right?

Except for the fuzzy future of the coach.

“I’ve been waiting to speak on this for a while now,” de Laura said. “We have no issue with Coach Rolo or with any of our coaches – we respect their decisions. The guys covering us, they’re trying to dig a hole on our Cougar football team. I thought you guys were supposed to be supporting us and you guys are over here trying to take out our head guy.”

Hmm. Reading the defense isn’t the same as reading the writing on the wall. If anybody’s taking out Rolovich, it’s the coach himself.

“It’s an incredible stress for young people,” Rolovich acknowledged of his tap-dance with the mandate and the attention it’s generate. “I think for them to be able to keep their focus and continue to give to each other and to this program has been special.”

If only someone could relieve that stress. Who could that possibly be?

Seems pretty clear from here.

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