HONOLULU — Nick Rolovich was formally introduced as the University of Hawai’i’s new head football coach during a press conference Monday morning at the Athletics Department Lecture Hall. A standing room only crowd welcomed the former UH quarterback and assistant coach who was hired after spending the past four years as the University of Nevada offensive coordinator.
“I’m pleased to welcome back Nick Rolovich to the UH ‘ohana,” UH Athletics Director David Matlin said. “Nick is a Warrior at heart and someone I know our fans will support. He understands what it means to be a Warrior having played and coached here and what affect a winning program has with this community. I have no doubt we picked the right man for this job. The future is bright for Hawai’i football.”
Rolovich becomes the 23rd head coach for the Rainbow Warrior program. At 36, he is the fifth-youngest head coach in NCAA Division I FBS and the youngest to lead the Rainbow Warriors since Dick Tomey in 1977.
Regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the country, Rolovich has proven an accomplished play-caller in operating the run and shoot, as well as the pistol offense. The former UH offensive coordinator and record-setting quarterback returns to Manoa from Nevada, where he aided the Wolf Pack to bowl eligibility in three of the past four seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Under Rolovich’s guidance at Nevada, quarterback Cody Fajardo became a rare piece of NCAA history in 2014, reaching 9,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in a career—only the second player in NCAA history, following fellow Wolf Pack signal caller Colin Kaepernick, to reach that mark. In addition, he tutored Bryant Moniz to 10,169 career passing yards during his tenure at Hawai’i.
Since joining the Nevada staff in 2012, Rolovich’s Wolf Pack offense has ranked as high as eighth nationally (2012) in total offense, generating 2,786 yards passing with Fajardo at quarterback, while boasting a seventh-ranked rushing attack paced by Stefphon Jefferson’s 1,883 yards.
With Fajardo’s graduation last season, Rolovich redoubled Nevada’s running game efforts, which currently ranks 29th nationally with 206.2 rushing yards per game, putting up over 200 yards on average for the second consecutive season. Under his guidance, the tandem of James Butler and Don Jackson rank fifth and seventh in MW rushing, both exceeding 1,000 yards rushing, and Butler leads the conference in yards per carry (6.3). During his time in Reno, the Wolf Pack made an appearance in the 2014 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and is eligible for post-season play this year.
Rolovich has coached four quarterbacks who are currently on professional rosters; UH’s Bryant Moniz (CFL – Calgary Stampeders) and Shane Austin (AFL – Portland Thunder); Nevada’s Fajardo (CFL – Toronto Argonauts); and City College of San Francisco’s Jeremiah Masoli (CFL – Hamilton Tiger Cats).
Rolovich led an improved Wolf Pack offense in 2014, averaging 29.2 points per game to jump from 11th to fourth in the Mountain West in scoring offense. Rolovich’s ground game racked up 2,671 yards. The Nevada offense came up clutch numerous times in 2014, ranking second in the nation in fourth quarter scoring.
In his second season at Nevada in 2013, the first under Brian Polian, Nevada averaged 429 yards per game and was 45th nationally in total offense, scoring over 30 points on five occasions. Rolovich joined Nevada in 2012, expanding his offensive repertoire under College Football Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault—labeled “The Godfather of the Pistol”—Rolovich was one of three coaches retained when Ault retired.
In 2012, Rolovich helped Fajardo develop into one of the top young quarterbacks in the nation, completing 67 percent of his passes, while throwing for 2,786 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 1,121 yards rushing for 12 more scores.
During his time in Reno, Rolovich guided nine offensive players who earned all-Mountain West honors, in addition to nine UH offensive players mentored to all-Western Athletic Conference honors.
Rolovich’s first coaching stint at UH was wildly productive from 2008-11, directing one of the top passing offenses in the nation. He was the quarterbacks coach all four seasons and spent the final two years as the Warriors’ offensive coordinator.
For the latter three years of his time with the Warriors, he had play-calling duties, while UH threw for 13,915 yards—an average of 347.9 yards per game—and 96 touchdowns. That includes the 2010 season in which Hawai’i averaged 394.3 yards per game and led the nation in passing offense, finishing sixth in the nation in total offense. That year, Rolovich mentored former walk-on quarterback Moniz to the top of the NCAA charts in passing yards, total offense, and touchdowns, and to an eighth-place ranking in passing efficiency. Moniz’s favorites targets were receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, both of whom spent time in the NFL. Salas finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards (4,345) while Pilares is eighth in all-purpose yards (3,379).
Rolovich was a two-year letterwinner at quarterback for Hawai’i from 2000-01, starting the bulk of the 2001 season and leading the team to an 8-1 record as a starter. He passed for 4,176 career yards and 40 touchdowns and still holds six school passing records. The highlight of his career was perhaps one of the best performances in college football history, as Rolovich led the Warriors to an upset over previously unbeaten BYU in the 2001 season finale, 72-45, with 543 yards and eight touchdowns. As a senior that season, he ranked 10th nationally in passing efficiency with a 150.5 rating and broke 19 school passing and eight total offense records. He ended his college career with three consecutive 500-yard passing games, engineering at least 52 points each outing.
Rolovich participated in the 2002 Hula Bowl and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, completing 10-of-18 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns. He came to UH from City College of San Francisco (CCSF), where he was a two-time All-American and directed the school to a National Championship in 1999 under legendary coach George Rush.
Following his UH playing career, Rolovich participated in the Dallas Cowboys mini-camp before signing with the Denver Broncos. He was released after the team’s final preseason game in 2002. The next year, he was allocated to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, where he threw for 907 yards and led the Fire to World Bowl XI.
Rolovich got his coaching start in 2002 as an assistant coach for San Marin (Calif.) High School, later reuniting with his college coach, June Jones, in coaching the run and shoot offense as a student assistant at Hawai’i during the 2003-04 seasons.
Rush gave Rolovich his first full-time college coaching position as quarterbacks coach at CCSF, where he helped guide the Rams to a J.C. Gridwire National Championship in 2007. He also coached all-conference quarterbacks Zak Lee and Masoli, who went on to earn Division I scholarships at Nebraska and Oregon, respectively.
Rolovich balanced between extending his playing career and successfully coaching the next generation of players. Prior to his first stint coaching at UH, he returned to Denver in 2003 and was cut following training camp. From there he began a five-year career in the Arena Football League, beginning with the San Jose SaberCats. Serving as veteran Mark Grieb’s backup, Rolovich was a member of the Arena Bowl Championship team. He then spent time with the Chicago Rush, Arizona Rattlers and Las Vegas Gladiators. While with the Gladiators, he threw for 1,248 yards and 23 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 104.8 in 2007 before retiring and accepting a full-time role at his alma mater on Greg McMackin’s coaching staff.
The Novato, Calif., earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from UH in 2004 and a Master’s in human performance and sport from New Mexico Highlands (2007).
Rolovich and his wife, Analea, have three sons, Daniel, William and Patrick, and a daughter, Alana.
The Nick Rolovich File
Hometown: Novato, Calif.
Family: Wife – Analea, Daughter – Alana, Sons – Daniel, William and Patrick
Bachelor’s, Hawai’i, 2004
Master’s, New Mexico Highlands, 2007
2012-15: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, Nevada
2010-11: Offensive Coordinator, Hawai’i
2008-09: Quarterbacks, Hawai’i
2006-07: Quarterbacks, City College of San Francisco
2003-04: Student Assistant, Hawai’i
2002: Assistant Coach, San Marin (Calif.) High School
City College of San Francisco: Quarterback (1998-99)
Hawai’i: Quarterback (2000-01)
Rhein Fire (NFL Europe): Quarterback (2002-03)
San Jose SaberCats (Arena): Quarterback (2004-05)
Arizona Rattlers (AFL): Quarterback (2006)
Chicago Rush (AFL): Quarterback (2006)
Las Vegas Gladiators (AFL): Quarterback (2007)
Okay, so that was only for the second half but look, we have to find something positive! That is exactly what the Hawaii coaches are trying to do…find things and ways to keep the players focused and positive.
Offensive Coordinator, Don Bailey, confirmed that at the final Nā Koa luncheon for the 2015 football season. In our situation it is difficult to keep playing hard, Baily said, and Coach Naeole is making sure players are going to class, seeing their tutors…doing their jobs.
During the game Naeole called the team together in a disappointed fervor and broke his headset while doing so. He set the team straight and they performed much better after that. Bailey said when Coach speaks, everyone listens, especially when stuff starts to break.
In keeping things positive, the focus is on the seniors. “You always remember your last game” reminded Bailey. He admitted the crowd size has some effect on the players but we still have plays to play so the players have to remain plugged in.
There were a lot of improvements Bailey pointed out. The O line is playing better…they have allowed 12 fewer sacks than a year ago. We have rushed for over 200 yards the past two games – in the spread formation! And, we did it using one Tight End, not two or three as many ground gobbling teams do.
Bailey marveled at Ben Clark who played with a fractured foot and started nearly every game in his UH career. “It takes more than just the minimum to be a good football player” Bailey said.
Paul Harris is just a few carries away from a 1,000 yard season which has not happened at Hawaii for a while. Harris is learning to mentally prepare to be a gladiator as he will get hit on every play, especially since Mel Davis is still hurt.
Bailey does not believe Bo Reilly will be seen in a game this year simply because Ikaika is better in the system at this moment. They will also play it smart and not burn a redshirt year for Aaron Zwahlen.
Rigo Sanchez’s on-side kicks, which were planned, were surreal on Saturday. Bailey said Rigo is an extraordinary kicker and he practices that kick. They just had to wait for a chance to try it.
This year has been tough as coaches scheme and plan for whatever the players have the ability to do. Everyone must be good enough to play their assignment….as a coach, “I can’t protect all 11 players.”
And injuries, well we’ve had more than our share. The injury of the year is MCLs, maybe because of the attention given to targeting, resulting in tackling the lower extremities.
Bailey feels there is good depth on the offense for next year. There are a couple of redshirt O linemen who have great size. He thinks we need a couple of young tailbacks. Above all he feels a need for more speed.
Written by: Gareth Sakakida
Naeole spoke to the team who he reported is in good spirits and told them what he expects. He wants to make sure the coaches maintain their focus as well since they are naturally concerned about their jobs.
Naeole does not foresee any overnight changes…when you have the same players and same coordinators, you do what you do. The hardest part of the new job is the administrative stuff….scheduling and setting up the meetings….”the football part is easy,” he said.
Everyone has a part in why things are not working as well as they would like. Yet, Naeole feels Hawaii has a real good group except that they have not had everyone healthy from day one. “Our primary running back has not even played this year; we haven’t had guys start consistently” Naeole reported; however, he added that right now the injury situation is getting better, slowly.
Ben Clarke is considered a soldier by Naeole. “He doesn’t get a boo-boo and run to the coach; even with his injuries he straps it up week in and week out.” On Eperone Moananu, Naeole said he is needed on defense and doing a good job filling holes. But, “I want him back!”
While on the sidelines, Naeole will have the coordinators call their plays and he will assume the role a Head Coach plays which is determine personnel, decide on going for two, call timeouts, and most importantly, providing the motivation for the next four weeks.
He will challenge the players to play for each other and for underclassmen, to perform as if it were a job interview to propel them into the Spring, and to feel good about themselves.
Naeole will watch practice very carefully to make personnel decisions for the game. He will confer with the Offensive and Defensive staffs on that issue. Although Naeole was an offensive lineman, he feels comfortable talking defense, “I think I know what it takes to make stops.”
Naeole said recruiting will be the purview of the next staff as his focus is on the next four games. If he is looked at as the next head man, so be it…“we’ll see where things land.”
Written by: Gareth Sakakida