A public university in the US state of Washington has fired prominent American football coach Nick Rolovich and four assistants for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Monday’s sacking made Rolovich the first prominent college coach to be fired over his vaccination status, as jurisdictions across the country have moved to enact a mandate that all state employees be vaccinated.
The move came after the vaccination deadline set by Washington Governor Jay Inslee for thousands of state employees expired.
Washington State University athletics director Pat Chun said that Rolovich had applied for a religious exemption for the mandate, which was denied on Monday.
The 42-year-old Rolovich had been the state’s highest paid employee with an annual salary of more than $3m in a contract that was due to run through 2025.
Rolovich was fired for cause, which means the university does not have to honour the rest of his contract, although lawsuits over the decision are likely.
Also fired for refusing vaccinations were assistant coaches Ricky Logo, John Richardson, Craig Stutzmann and Mark Weber.
The sackings come in the middle of the college football season, causing what Chun said may be an unprecedented mid-season coaching shake-up.
The Washington State Cougars football team compete at the highest level of US college sports – the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I.
“This is a tough day for Washington State football,” Chun said at a news conference. “Nobody wants to be here.”
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz said on Monday that nearly 90 percent of the school’s employees and 97 percent of students had been vaccinated.
Fewer than 50 of some 10,000 employees have sought exemptions, Schulz said.
“There was a lot of frustration with such a prominent employee choosing to be unvaccinated,” Schulz said.
Around the country, many college football coaches have publicly advocated for vaccination. Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said not getting vaccinated would be irresponsible and bragged about his team being 100 percent vaccinated.
Many coaches have talked about their teams’ high vaccination rates, though schools are not under any obligation to share those numbers.
Unlike last season, when COVID-19 cases swept through major college football, postponing and cancelling games weekly, no games have needed to be rescheduled because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
While about half of US states require at least some employees to be vaccinated, several have adopted stringent mandates that require state employees to be vaccinated or prove a valid religious or medical exemption.
Others have passed laws banning employers from requiring vaccines.