Nick Rolovich is apologizing in advance.
He’s got six weeks to install new offensive and defensive systems as Washington State coach, and on occasion he might have to abandon the Mr. Nice Guy persona he’s been trying to project since January.
Working rapidly and making tough decisions will be key for the Cougars as they begin preparing for an off-again, on-again season that’s now scheduled to start about Nov. 7.
Chief among Rolovich’s tasks will be choosing a No. 1 quarterback from among four candidates who’ve never taken a college snap.
“Listen, I’m sorry, but I’m going to be very hard on you guys in practice,’” Rolovich said he told his quarterbacks. “I want to see how you deal with adversity. I want to see how you deal with hard coaching.”
Rolovich was speaking on a WSU radio show at Zeppoz bowling center in Pullman on Thursday, hours after Pac-12 presidents had voted unanimously to whip together a seven-game football schedule — exclusively conference games — and avoid being the only Power Five conference to dispense with fall football in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
A school spokesman confirmed Friday the Cougar quarterback pool won’t include Jake Constantine, the former Weber State quarterback who in July had expressed an intention of enrolling at Washington State as a walk-on graduate transfer. He changed his mind about joining the Cougs, the spokesman said.
So the top quarterback contenders are sophomore Camm Cooper, second-year freshman Gunner Cruz, true freshman Jayden de Laura and walk-on Victor Gabalis.
There still are plenty of unknowns about the Pac-12 season, such as the exact league schedule and the virus-related protocols for practices. But by the end of the month the 12 schools expect to receive high-tech equipment that will allow daily virus tests, which presidents cited as pivotal in their decision to restart the season.
The run-up wiill be a whirlwind experience for Rolovich, the former Hawaii coach who was hired in January to replace eight-year boss Mike Leach, now at Mississippi State.
The coronavirus forced the cancellation of spring drills, robbing Rolovich of the luxury of introducing his schemes leisurely. His run-and-shoot offense bears similarities to Leach’s Air Raid, but there are significant differences. While he’s directing those changes, new defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will be installing the 4-2-5 system he helped oversee at Wyoming.
On both sides of the ball, tasks such as player evaluation will need to be specd up. It seems likely veterans will have an extra edge over youngsters.
Rolovich said he told his players, “Decisions are going to have to be made probably before we would want to. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love you. That doesn’t mean you’re not getting better. It doesn’t mean your future is not bright. This is now about putting the best players on the field and win a football game.”
Coaches will try to be selective about what they install, placing a priority on possible game-deciding situations. During a recent walk-through, the Cougs rehearsed the victory formation — taking a knee to milk the clock. When contact practices are allowed, they’ll try not to underplay special teams.
“When you looked at the first week of college football,” Rolovich said, referring to the conferences that opened this month, “you were seeing a bunch of special teams touchdowns. I think there’s some ball-security issues that we really need to address. Game ball — make sure they’re walking around with it at home, because they haven’t been hit in a calendar year. They haven’t really had a ball in their hands in competitive situations in a long time.”
But the restart is what the Cougars wanted, from the top on down. School president Kirk Schulz, who was interviewed during the radio show, acknowledged the unanimous vote didn’t come without discussion.
“I love college football,” he said. “I’ve always been a sports fan. Not not all my colleague presidents are necessarily sports fans. ... I was behind the scenes pushing pretty hard that, ‘We need to get this done.’”
Grummert may be contacted at dale@lmtribune or (208) 848-2290.