Heaps: Why WSU nailed its head coaching hire with Nick Rolovich

Jan 14, 2020, 3:09 PM | Updated: 3:38 pm
WSU HC Nick Rolovich...
Nick Rolovich is the new head coach of the WSU Cougars football program. (AP)

The WSU Cougars have their replacement for Mike Leach in Nick Rolovich.

Instant Reaction: 710 ESPN Seattle on Mike Leach leaving WSU

Rolovich, 40, changed his Twitter profile late Monday night to signal that he was heading to Pullman. Most recently Hawaii’s head coach, Rolovich takes over for Leach, who accepted the head coaching position at Mississippi State last week.

Rolovich may not be the flashiest hire, as many WSU faithful were hoping for former defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to return to Pullman, but Jake Heaps of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy said that Rolovich is the right hire for WSU. Heck, he was even one of the first to float Rolovich’s name for the job.

“I’m really excited about Nick Rolovich,” Heaps said. “It was a name that I actually threw out there at the beginning along with (former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin). I thought this was a pretty good landing spot for him because one, (it’s almost the) same offense, stylistically. A heavy spread attack. It’s different, it’s not true Air Raid, it’s more of a true spread system from Nick Rolovich.”

Leach led one of the best, if not the best, passing attacks in the country while at Pullman for a number of seasons. Last year, WSU was the best passing team in the country, though Hawaii wasn’t far behind at No. 5.

Schematically, the transition should be smooth because of personnel. WSU didn’t utilize many tight ends under Leach, which would have made it harder for a coach to come in and implement a more run-heavy or pro-style offense. But since Rolovich has shown his teams will throw the ball a lot, the switch from Leach to Rolovich shouldn’t be too difficult.

The other reason it’s a good landing spot for Rolovich, Heaps said, is he has a unique personality. Leach was also known for his interesting use of his Twitter page as well as his answers to questions by the media, but Rolovich isn’t as eccentric as the former WSU coach.

“He’s a fun personality in the sense of he’s not quite as out there as Mike Leach, but he’ll have a lot of fun on Twitter and he’s a unique personality that people will like and enjoy,” Heaps said.

Aside from a seemingly smooth transition from Leach’s Air Raid offense to Rolovich’s spread attack, maybe the biggest win for WSU and Cougars fans is Rolovich’s ability to recruit, especially when it comes to in-state athletes.

“He recruits extremely well on the West Coast and he has taken a serious interest in recruiting the state of Washington over the last few years,” Heaps said. “They’ve gotten a lot of good talent at Hawaii, and they’ve been able to be very successful in a short period of time when Hawaii as a program was a disaster. It was a place you never wanted to go as a head coach and he was able to turn it around.”

Rolovich took over at Hawaii in 2015 and went 28-27 during those four seasons. In the four seasons before he took over the Rainbow Warriors program, Hawaii had just 11 wins total. He capped off his Hawaii tenure with a 38-34 win over BYU in the Hawaii Bowl after losing to Boise State in the Mountain West Conference Championship.

“What he was able to do in Hawaii to me was extremely impressive,” Heaps said. “That was the very bottom of college football in terms of programs to take over as a head coach, and he was able to make that school very strong in a very short period of time and produce some good quarterbacks.”

Hawaii was Rolovich’s first head coaching gig, having previously served as offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach at Nevada from 2012-15 and Hawaii from 2008-11. Rolovich played at Hawaii in 2000 and 2001 before a seven-year pro career in NFL Europe and the Arena Football League.

Leach led WSU’s program to its best stretch historically from 2012 to 2019, going 55-47 with six bowl appearances in his eight seasons. But while some loved his personality, it was off-putting to others, especially since the team lost the annual Apple Cup to rival Washington each of the last seven seasons.

“I think for WSU fans, there was a lot of talk about what Mike Leach did and didn’t do,” Heaps said. “One, (Rolovich) is a great personality that isn’t going to rub people the wrong way, but two, he’s going to make that Apple Cup more competitive, I promise you that.”

Not only will Rolovich make the Apple Cup more competitive on gameday, he’ll make life harder for Washington with his ability to recruit the best players in the state.

“He’s going to recruit the heck out of the state of Washington. He’s going to be able to really compete, and yes, I say he’s going to compete with the University of Washington for recruits,” Heaps said. “He is a great recruiter. He is going to bring in a great (coaching) staff that way. A unique, dynamic personality, but he’s just a good fit.”

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake Heaps on Twitter.

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