Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich was talking about his team’s win last week against Portland State in a Zoom news conference Monday when the topic of conversation changed abruptly.
A reporter informed him that USC, which plays the Cougars this week in Pullman, had just fired coach Clay Helton.
After a long pause, he said, “It’s definitely a crazy business we’re in.”
The Trojans’ move will dominate story lines this week as they prepare for a Pac-12 game against the Cougars on Saturday (12:30 p.m., FOX) at Gesa Field. USC is favored by 8½ points.
The Cougs (1-1, 0-0) also learned Monday their conference game at Utah on Sept. 25 will begin at 11:30 a.m. PDT and will be aired on the Pac-12 Network.
Helton, who’d headed the USC program for six-plus seasons, was fired two days after the Trojans (1-1, 0-1) absorbed a 42-28 home loss to 17-point underdog Stanford. Associate head coach Donte Williams was handed the interim reins.
Rolovich has long considered Helton a friend, having worked with his brother Tyson at Hawaii when Rolovich was a quarterback there and the other a grad assistant. Tyson Helton is now head coach at Western Kentucky.
“He did some great things for that place,” Rolovich said of Clay Helton and USC. “I know he cares about the kids. He’s still my friend and I wish him the best in his next part of his journey.”
He didn’t play down the significance of the move, but said it won’t change much in the WSU camp.
“It’s hard on the coaches, it’s hard on the families, it’s hard on the kids going through a coaching change,” Rolovich said. “Whether it’s right or wrong or how everybody feels, it’s not easy for these young guys. That should not change our approach to the football game we have this weekend.”
Rolovich was again peppered with questions about his refusal to divulge his coronavirus vaccination plans. He again sidestepped them.
If he were to choose the Pfizer vaccine, his deadline would have been Monday to get the shot if he intended the meet the Washington state deadline of Oct. 18 for education workers to be fully vaccinated. With the single-dose Johnson & Johnson inoculation, his last chance would be Oct. 4. The Moderna deadline has already passed.
“I still plan on following the mandate,” Rolovich said, again declining to specify whether that means getting the shot or seeking an exemption, “and doing what I need to do to be the coach here.”
Asked why he won’t be more specific, he said, “I don’t know that it’s all that positive to get deep into it with the media, the way it’s going. So I’m just going to try to keep that to myself and concentrate on being the coach here.”
He was asked how he would respond to fans, teachers and students who are upset about his stance.
“I’m sorry,” he replied.
Rolovich said WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura, who passed for 303 yards in the Cougars’ 44-24 win against Portland State, will probably start again vs. USC.
He gave no injury updates for first-game QB starter Jarrett Guarantano or the handful of defensive backs who’ve encountered issues, including Jaylen Watson, Armani Marsh and, Armauni Archie. But he lauded the play Saturday of Daniel Isom, who had moved from safety to nickelback to fill the breach.
“Watching some of our stuff from last year, and watching him play this year, it seems like he’s playing even faster,” Rolovich said. “He came off the edge chasing down the QB ... and he really looked like he was covering some ground.”
The extra zip, he said, probably implies a higher comfort level with the system of second-year defensive coordinator Jake Dickert.
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