WSU hires Hawaii’s Nick Rolovich as head football coach

Jan 13, 2020, 9:33 PM | Updated: Jan 14, 2020, 4:37 pm
Possible WSU hire Nick Rolovich...
Nick Rolovich is WSU's choice to replace Mike Leach as Cougars football coach. (Getty)

The Air Raid is no longer at WSU, but that doesn’t mean the Cougars are abandoning a pass-heavy offense.

Heaps: Why Cougars nailed head coaching hire with Nick Rolovich

Nick Rolovich, whose Hawaii Rainbow Warriors were fifth in the nation in passing in 2019, has accepted an offer to be the Cougars’ new head football coach.

By sharing a picture of a cougar from his Twitter account and changing his bio to “Head Football Coach, Washington State University,” Rolovich confirmed late Monday night he’s coming to Pullman from Honolulu.

Hawaii athletic director David Maltin said in a statement about an hour earlier that Rolovich had given notice that he had accepted the Washington State coaching position. On Tuesday morning, it was WSU athletic director Pat Chun’s turn to take to Twitter and confirm the signing of Rolovich.

On late Tuesday afternoon, WSU finally made it official.

WSU’s statement says Rolovich has agreed in principle to a five-year deal. It is expected to be for five years at $3 million per season, according to the Associated Press. Rolovich will be introduced at a press conference at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Leach left WSU on Jan. 9 to become the head coach at Mississippi State. He was set to make a $4 million annual salary at Washington State after agreeing to a contract extension through 2024 last month.

Rolovich, who will turn 41 next month, became Hawaii’s coach in December 2015 and went 28-27 in four seasons with the Rainbow Warriors. In the four seasons prior to his arrival, Hawaii won just 11 games combined.

In 2019, Rolovich led Hawaii to a 10-5 record, including a 31-10 loss to Boise State in the Mountain West title game and a 38-34 win over BYU in the Hawaii Bowl. He was named the 2019 MWC Coach of the Year.

Under Rolovich, the Warriors went 2-1 in three bowl appearances, all at the Hawaii Bowl.

The pass-heavy attack Cougar fans became used to with Leach’s Air Raid will likely continue with Rolovich. At Hawaii he employed the run-and-shoot offense, and in 2019 the team ranked 13th in the country in total offense with 471 yards per game. With 337.1 passing yards per game, it ranked only four spots below top-ranked WSU in passing offense.

While the run game hasn’t always been used much in Rolovich’s offense, it’s fair to expect WSU will employ it more now than it did under Leach at WSU. Hawaii averaged 133.9 rushing yards per game in 2019, good 100th in the country, while the Cougars were second-to-last among the 130 FBS teams with 68.1 rushing yards per game.

Rolovich previously had stints as offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach at Nevada (2012-15) and Hawaii (2008-11). He was a quarterback at Hawaii in 2000 and 2001 and had a seven-year pro career in NFL Europe and the Arena Football League.

Rolovich’s name was one of a few to be rumored as a fit for Washington State after Leach’s departure, with current Oklahoma defensive coordinator and former WSU DC Alex Grinch perhaps the only one to get more mentions.

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