PULLMAN – With the twin-engine idling on the runway and Pat Chun filling out the letters of transit in the name of June Jones – or some other placeholder to be named on Monday – Nick Rolovich looks his Washington State players in the eyes and delivers the Bogie line.
We’ll always have Stanford.
And then he strolls off into the fog.
Louie, this could be the beginning of a beautiful martyrdom.
Actually, there was no fog on Saturday evening – it was clear and 70ish at kickoff, the best October football day imaginable. But otherwise, beyond some unforeseen twist, it was a “Casablanca” ending for the Cougs and for their coach, who may as well hook on with a free French garrison over at Brazzaville given his employment prospects after his misbegotten stand.
Surely there was a reason the players picked the stirring 34-31 comeback victory over Stanford to punctuate by dumping the contents of a Gatorade bucket over Rolovich.
Well, of course. It was his fifth victory as Wazzu’s head coach. All such major milestones are so celebrated in Pullman, aren’t they?
Uh, not so much.
No, the Cougar players can read and hear as well as the rest of us, even if some of them have trouble grasping the nuances of reportage. And they are all too aware that come Monday, whether Rolovich is granted an exemption to the campus vaccine mandate or not, likely as not they’ll be playing for a new head coach.
So when Max Borghi punched over the go-ahead touchdown and Quinn Roff punched out the Stanford fumble to end the drama, out came the bucket brigade for Rolo.
It looked like a send-off. So was it?
“You have to celebrate close-game victories,” WSU edge demon Ron Stone Jr. said, deflecting the notion that there was a subtext – with a smile. “You don’t always have a dog-fight kind of game like that so when they come and you end up coming up with them, you have to take full advantage when you celebrate.”
OK. With no evidence of a tongue in Stone’s cheek, let’s chalk the bath up to mere happiness – and wrap it up with this footnote from a fellow named Al Wasser out in Twitterworld:
“Couldn’t they have snuck a dose of vaccine in there?” they wondered.
Alas, it has to come in a needle, Al.
But celebration or no, even Rolovich – steadfast in general denial as he’s been for three months since drawing his line in the sand – took that only so far on Saturday, acknowledging that he is unsure of his employment beyond the next 24-48 hours and has received no particular indication from Chun, the Cougars’ athletic director, what might be in store.
“I’m going to come to work tomorrow and get ready for BYU (the Cougars’ opponent next Saturday) and grade this film,” Rolovich said. “I don’t think this is in my hands. I’ve been settled for a long time on it … I believe it’s going to work out the right way.”
Meaning him retaining his position?
“Correct,” he said. “Or if that’s not what he (Chun) wants, then I guess I’ve got to move on. I like being the coach here. I love these kids. I’ve just got to have faith in it.”
Wait, faith? Was that last-ditch testimony to buttress his bid for a religious exemption?
Sorry. It’s hard not to look for the comic edges when the only head coach in the Pac-12 who has refused the COVID-19 vaccine tries to get away with a line like, “I don’t think this is in my hands.”
Yes, there is an AD and a president and a panel of appeals with work to do, but this has been very much in Nick Rolovich’s hands all along. Trying to suggest he has no part in the outcome is the ultimate in self-pity, the front of an actor auditioning to be a martyr.
It’s like saying Saturday’s outcome was up to Stanford alone, which would certainly be an insult to his team – which played like champions in first coming back from a 13-0 deficit, and then winning the game in the last 3½ minutes.
Indeed, the players deserve to be able to revel in their three-game winning streak without this melodrama manufactured by their coach, which made another snippet of Rolovich’s remarks even more curious.
“These kids are incredible,” he said. “I love being around them. They’re playing their hearts out for the university.”
And later: “They care about winning, and they care about each other.”
So what does Nick Rolovich care about it? Well, we’ve learned that all too well. Surely in his time as a football coach, he has asked his players for focus on a singular goal, whatever sacrifices have to be made.
Sacrifice he won’t make – even if you can call getting a shot a sacrifice.
So come Monday, presumably, there will be resolution. That it might come in the form of Rolovich’s old run-and-shoot mentor, Jones, swooping in adds yet more intrigue.
“I’m waiting on the email,” Rolovich said. “That’s as far as I know.”
Be sure and check the spam filter, too.
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