Tonight’s commentary comes with two disclaimers: First, that despite being labeled a Husky Lover, a Coug Hater, A Coug Lover and a Husky hater – sometimes all four in the same day - I am legitimately neutral when it comes to the Apple Cup rivalry.
And second: What I’m about to say has absolutely nothing to do with results on the field, which is the most important – some would argue the ONLY thing important – to a coach’s success at a particular school.
But in my opinion, new Washington State coach Nick Rolovich has won the offseason so far. With a combination of humor, confidence and creativity, Rolo has energized the Cougar fanbase more than anyone expected.
You have to remember that unlike the situation at UW there was no “coach-in-waiting” when Mike Leach unexpectedly jumped ship to Mississippi State. There was no Jimmy Lake on hand to take the reigns and continue to grow a system already in place. The Cougs had to find a guy on fairly short notice who would be able to set a foundation, establish his kind of program while still embracing everything unique about Pullman and the culture at Washington State.
And here we are, less than two months after the hire of some guy many had never heard of before January, and Coug fans are legitimately excited.
Why? Because to this point, Rolovich has checked every possible box – ironically, by being the anti-Mike Leach!
In terms of football, Rolo has already prioritized the two things that Leach didn’t: in-state recruiting and winning Apple Cup. Who knows if the Cougs will actually break the seven-game Apple Cup losing streak to the Huskies this season, but it’s refreshing to many that Rolovich is embracing the importance of winning a rivalry game – from knowing the number of days to Apple Cup from his opening press conference to plans of putting a Countdown Clock in the Cougars locker room.
Then, there’s the public outreach. Showing up to a random Cougar bar in his visit to Seattle and hosting an impromptu gathering with Cougar supporters and covering the entire tab. Embracing everything about the Crimson and Grey, including its history – from putting out a Cougar madness bracket to pare down the best Washington State games of all time to publicly supporting former Cougs this week going through the NFL Combine, even though he never coached the players himself. He was even at UW Friday night and got to celebrate with men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith after the Cougs completed a season sweep of the Dawgs on the hardwood.
And while Leach’s Twitter game was strong, he often alienated fans within his own fanbase with posts that weren’t exactly politically neutral.
Rolovich has countered with amusing posts like, quote, “You can say I stink at coaching, or that I’m an odd-shaped individual. You can say that my antics don’t have a place in college football, or you can have an inner hatred toward hairy men. That’s fine. But if you make fun of my hats, you will get blocked.”
And with Spring Football coming up, he likened each session to a “party,” something that surely plays well with the Cougar fanbase as well. As one Coug put it, Rolo has such an innate Cougar “bro-spirit” that “Brolo” might be a more fitting nickname.
Either way, after eight years of Mike Leach, it’s certainly refreshing. Who knows if it’ll translate to wins the next few seasons, including Apple Cup – which is the priority.
But for now at least, in these offseason months, Rolovich is coming out on top.