It took nine months for Nick Rolovich, the new Washington State football coach, to conduct his first practice with the Cougars after the coronavirus led to the cancellation of spring practice and delays in the start of the 2020 season. Rolovich was hired from Hawaii in January after Mike Leach left for Mississippi State. (Associated Press)

It took nine months for Nick Rolovich, the new Washington State football coach, to conduct his first practice with the Cougars after the coronavirus led to the cancellation of spring practice and delays in the start of the 2020 season. Rolovich was hired from Hawaii in January after Mike Leach left for Mississippi State. (Associated Press)

Washington State will feature new coach, quarterback

Nick Rolovich has big shoes to fill, but his outgoing personality is winning over the Palouse.

  • Friday, October 30, 2020 8:19am
  • Sports

By Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press

It took nine months for new Washington State coach Nick Rolovich to conduct his first practice with the Cougars after the coronavirus led to the cancellation of spring practice and delays in the start of the 2020 season.

But Rolovich sees that short schedule of games as an opportunity for the Cougars, who are picked by media to finish last in the Pac-12 North.

“There’s six or seven games and it’s about who gets hot and who stays together and who believes they can win,” said Rolovich, who was hired from Hawaii in January after Mike Leach left for Mississippi State. “It’s who’s hot and who’s playing well at that time.”

Rolovich has big shoes and big expectations to fill after Leach’s tenure on the Palouse. Leach led the Cougars to a bowl game in each of his last five seasons in Pullman and in six of the eight seasons he was in charge of the program.

While Leach became the third-winningest coach in WSU history during his eight seasons, his personality and attitude — and constant losing to archrival Washington — could be abrasive to some. Rolovich seems to be more in line with past Washington State coaches like Jim Walden and Mike Price, who had outgoing personalities.

“I can’t do it Mike Leach’s way, I can’t do it Mike Price’s way,” Rolovich said. “You’ve got to be yourself and you’ve got to do it your way.”

Rolovich’s gregarious personality has already made a solid impression.

“He’s a player’s coach,” running back Max Borghi said. “He cares about his players a whole lot.”

The Cougars were one of three programs in the Pac-12 that didn’t get any spring football in and they’re also installing new schemes on both sides of the ball.

Leach used the Air Raid offense to great success at Washington State and Rolovich’s run-and-shoot system is similar but will rely more on the run game.

The biggest question for the Cougars is how they go about replacing national passing leader Anthony Gordon at quarterback. Gordon threw for 5,579 yards and 48 touchdowns last season and none of the players competing to replace him has taken a snap for the Cougars.

The candidates include Cammon Cooper, a redshirt sophomore, and Gunner Cruz, a redshirt freshman, plus incoming freshmen Jayden de Laura and walk-on Victor Gabalis.

Mad max

Borghi is likely to get more rushing attempts under Rolovich. Borghi was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season after recording 1,435 all-purpose yards and 16 total touchdowns, second-most in the league. He was the only player in the Power Five with 800-plus rushing yards, 550-plus receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns after rushing for 817 yards and 11 touchdowns while also catching a team-high 86 passes for 597 yards and five scores. Borghi led all Pac-12 running backs by averaging 6.4 yards per carry and led all running backs nationally with his 86 catches. “Now I can prove what I am capable of,” Borghi said. “I know I’m a great runner.”

Fiscal football

The Cougars are perhaps the most financially challenged of the Power Five programs, and the pandemic won’t help matters. Rolovich took a voluntary 15% pay cut, while his assistants took a 10% salary reduction, the school has said. Athletic director Pat Chun said the goal is to cut into a $30 million loss in athletic department revenue this fall because of the pandemic. Washington State was already facing financial woes prior to the arrival of COVID-19. The athletic department has a debt of about $100 million from the construction of a new football operations building, stadium upgrades and other spending in the past decade.

Missing Bryce

The Cougars will struggle to replace Bryce Beekman, a starting defensive back who was found dead in his apartment in March from acute intoxication. Officials said the 22-year-old Beekman died after consuming a combination of fentanyl and promethazine and his death was ruled accidental. No one will wear his No. 26 this season. Washington State is just two years removed from the suicide of quarterback Tyler Hilinski in January 2018.

Virus update

All classes at Washington State are being conducted remotely, but Pullman was hit with a surge of cases when students returned to campus in August. Football players are tested every day and get results before practice begins. Borghi said he never considered opting out of the season. “I love the game of football,” he said. “I would never opt out.”

Schedule scramble

The Cougars’ three nonconference games, at Utah State and at home versus Houston and Idaho, were canceled because of the coronavirus. The annual game against archrival Washington, usually the regular-season finale, will be played midseason.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Washington defensive back Kyler Gordon lines up against Oregon State during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Archbishop Murphy alum Gordon fills multiple roles for UW

The defensive back has force a fumble on defense and has been a special teams standout this season.

Malakhi Knight rounds third base during a game. (Photo courtesy of Malakhi Knight)
Marysville Getchell’s Knight switches commitment to UCLA

The state’s top-ranked baseball player for the class of 2021 originally committed to Oregon State.

Community sports roundup: Local swimmers shine in college

Rice’s Nicole Limberg and Alabama’s Matthew King recently turned in standout performances.

Gonzaga's Drew Timme (2) celebrates with Corey Kispert (24) and Joel Ayayi (11) after Timme made a shot and was fouled during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against West Virginia, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
No. 1 Gonzaga rallies to beat No. 11 West Virginia

Joel Ayayi scores 21 and Edmonds native Corey Kispert adds 19 in the Bulldogs’ 87-82 win.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) is sacked by Benson Mayowa (95), Jarran Reed (90) and Carlos Dunlap (43) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Philadelphia. The Seahawks defeated the Eagles (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Seahawks’ improving defense should strike fear into NFC foes

No, it’s not the old Legion of Boom, but even with an average defense Seattle could be formidable.

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) passes to a teammate against Auburn last Friday at the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Fort Myers, Florida. (Chris Tilley/Fort Myers Tip-Off via McClatchy News Service)
POLL: Should the Gonzaga-Auburn hoops game have been played?

The men’s basketball contest went forward despite a Gonzaga player testing positive for COVID-19.

New York Giants linebacker Devante Downs (52) during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)
How local NFL products fared in Week 12

Players from Snohomsish County didn’t see a lot of action as the season hits the three-quarter mark.

Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz (11) is tackled by Seattle Seahawks' Carlos Dunlap (43), Jarran Reed (90) and Benson Mayowa (95) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)
Grading the Seahawks in their 23-17 victory over the Eagles

For the second straight week Seattle’s much-maligned defense earns good marks.

Seattle Sounders' Shane O'Neill reacts after scoring against FC Dallas during the second half of an MLS playoff soccer match Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Sounders beat FC Dallas, advance to Western Conference final

Shane O’Neill scores on a header early in the second half and Seattle hangs on for a 1-0 win.

Most Read