Sources: Washington State finalizing deal to hire Hawaii's Nick Rolovich as next football coach

Pete Thamel
Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boise State, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won 59-37. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)
Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich reacts during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boise State, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won 59-37. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

Washington State is in the process of finalizing a deal to make Hawaii’s Nick Rolovich its next head coach, according to sources. Rolovich will receive a five-year deal at an average of nearly $3 million per season.

Rolovich is coming off a 10-win season at Hawaii, which included the school’s first-ever appearance in the Mountain West title game. Hawaii finished No. 5 nationally in passing offense, four spots behind Washington State.

The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman first reported news of the potential hiring.

For athletic director Pat Chun, the hire maintains both the program’s pass-happy identity and allows Washington State to continue to build on the foundation that Mike Leach left. Rolovich brings with him a similar knack for scoring points, as Hawaii finished No. 24 nationally in scoring with 33.9 points per game.

Rolovich established himself as a candidate for a bigger job after a season that saw victories over a pair of Pac-12 schools (Oregon State and Arizona), a late-season victory over perennial Mountain West contender San Diego State and a victory over BYU in the Hawaii Bowl.

Rolovich led Hawaii to bowl appearances in three of his four seasons as a head coach there. Rolovich’s ability to maximize a school with a strapped budget and challenging geography meshes well with Washington State, which doesn’t have near the revenue of Pac-12 peers like Washington, Oregon and USC and is located in remote Pullman.

Leach went 55-47 during his time at Washington State, building a distinct identity of defiantly offensive football. Chun looked to build on that with this hire, but also continue the momentum to stay in the conversation in the Pac-12 North race with Oregon, Washington and Stanford.

When Rolovich installed his Run-And-Shoot system at Hawaii two seasons ago, he did so after traveling to Key West to consult with Leach. While the systems are different, they can be considered kindred offensive cousins with their pass-happy roots and perennial statistical domination.

Rolovich, 40, also emerged as the type of quirky character that can thrive in Pullman and draw attention to the program. He’s quirky like Leach, but without Leach’s penchant to be mean-spirited and controversial. Rolovich is more of a free spirit, as he’s drawn headlines for everything from bringing an Elvis impersonator with him to Mountain West Conference media days to drinking hot cocoa at 1 a.m. with the fan behind a parody Bryan Harsin Twitter account. “The cocoa was good,” Rolovich told The Athletic. “He didn’t skimp on the powder.”

Rolovich has a career record of 28-27 as a head coach and has led the school to three of its 13 bowl games. He has a strong background in the Pac-12 footprint, as he coached high school and junior college in the Bay Area and also served as the offensive coordinator at Nevada, where he worked as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

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