Washington State’s search for a football coach seemingly came to fruition Monday night, as the Cougars met and came to initial terms with Hawaii’s Nick Rolovich, a number of media outlets reported Monday.
The Cougars are looking to replace Mike Leach, who jumped to Mississippi State last Thursday.
The Associated Press, citing two sources, reported WSU is close to finalizing an agreement, confirming a report by the Athletic that had put the deal at five years for about $3 million annually.
Rolovich has held the head-coaching job at Hawaii since 2016, going 28-27 and making three bowl appearances.
Rolovich’s Warriors ranked fifth in the nation in passing this past year, gaining 337 yards a game, though they ran the ball more more often than Leach’s Cougars did. WSU carried the ball just 16 times per game, for 68 yards. Hawaii averaged nearly 134 rushing yards on 28 attempts.
The people who spoke to AP did so on condition of anonymity because the hiring had not been announced by the school.
Hawaii went 10-5 in 2019, losing to Boise State in the Mountain West title game but rebounding to beat Brigham Young in the Hawaii Bowl.
Rolovich has overseen a significant turnaround with the Warriors. When he took over at Hawaii in 2016, he inherited a program that had won 11 total games in its first four seasons in the Mountain West. He’s won at least seven games in three of his four seasons. The 10 wins this season were the most for the Warriors since 2010, when they won 10 games and were co-champs of the WAC with Nevada and Boise State.
Rolovich makes sense for Washington State because of the style of offense he’s run during his time at Hawaii. His high-scoring, pass-happy system will play well in Pullman after Leach’s time installing the Air Raid offense on the Palouse.
Rolovich spent four seasons as an assistant at Hawaii before becoming the offensive coordinator at Nevada in 2012. He returned to his alma mater to take over the head job with the Warriors in 2016.
Washington State athletic director Pat Chun didn’t give much detail last week about what he was seeking in a head coach and whether he wanted to stay with the specific style Leach coached, which made Washington State an attractive destination for quarterbacks and skill position players. Chun didn’t give a time line, only reiterating he understood the urgency of landing a head coach while not wanting to rush the process.
Chun said it was not the same job it was when Leach was hired in late 2011. Washington State was 9-40 before Leach arrived. The Cougars went 55-47 with six bowl appearances in Leach’s eight seasons.
“I believe that Coach Leach has left us in great shape,” Chun said. “Based on what he took over and what is here now, this is not a rebuild anymore at Washington State. We need and will go find the right person that is going to add to this program.”