This morning Jason Gesser met with reporters for the first time after being named Idaho's interim head football coach. The 33-year-old former Washington State quarterback, wearing a black pinstripe suit with a gray tie, started crying a few minutes into the press conference when talking about the influence that Robb Akey, the man he's replacing, has had on him. “Akey’s been everything for me,” Gesser said. “The guy means a lot. … I mean, I owe my life to the guy.”
The full transcript of his comments during a 20-minute chat with the media is below.
UPDATE: We also have athletic director Rob Spear's full remarks after the jump. Spear told The Spokesman-Review after the press conference that the compensation for the new coach will be roughly the same as Akey's. Akey was set to make about $375,000 this year.
UPDATE NO. 2: Here's an early look at my story for Tuesday morning's paper.
Opening comment: It’s been a whirlwind. Obviously a lot of mixed things going on with myself internally and with the team. Just taking it minute by minute and second by second, to be honest with you, because that’s all I really can do right now.
On the goals that AD Rob Spear expressed to him: You know, he wants us to be successful. Bottom line. As any AD wants to see his football program. I appreciate the opportunity or appreciate the faith he has in myself to try and get that accomplished.
But don’t get it mistaken. It’s not just me. It’s our staff. It’s the guys we have on our staff. It’s the guys like Levenseller and Criner and Hunter and Shaw and Eti and all those guys who have been here and understand everything and have experience. It’s us working together to accomplish this, because it’s not a one-guy deal at all. I’m just the one that gets to talk to you guys.
On the mood of the team: Obviously last night was very, very difficult. A lot of tears shed. I know when I addressed the team I started shedding some tears and I might right now. Don’t hold it against me.
Akey’s been everything for me. The guy means a lot. … He’s the one that gave me the opportunity to be here. He’s the one that gave me the opportunity to not just become a college coach but become a coordinator. I mean, I owe my life to the guy. It’s not only hard on the kids, it’s hard on the coaching staff, too. It’s not an easy situation.
On talking to Akey: Just for a brief moment after the team meeting and everything happened so dang fast. I was going to go over to his house last night and talk to him, but he’s going through a lot right now too and I didn’t just want to show up unannounced. And I tried to call, but he’s getting bombarded. Hopefully sometime this week we’ll get over there and be able to talk.
How he learned of Akey being let go: The same we did all did. We have a bye week this week and yesterday was supposed to be a Sunday where we could hang out with our families. The first Sunday of the year, and that’s what we were taking it as. I got a text at 4:30 in the morning into bed (that said) we were going to have a staff meeting at 2 o’ clock. I told the offensive guys we were meeting at 2 o’ clock. When he came into the staff meeting, that’s when he let us know. That’s the first time we found out about any of that stuff.
His initial reaction when named interim coach: I don’t know, to be honest with you. It was shock. … I don’t know. It’s been something very, very different. As you guys will figure out, I’m not a guy who’s got a protocol to say everything the right way. I’m going to tell you guys how I really feel and how it really it is. And I hope you guys understand that and don’t hold me against that. But obviously I want to become a a head coach. That’s the goal that I do have. And so it’s something that I get a chance now, so I’m very grateful for that. But at the same time, I’m still trying to grasp the whole situation. And it’s tough. It’s tough.
On importance of bye week: It’s huge. I mean, absolutely huge. Because if you told me right now that this were to happen and we were playing this upcoming Saturday and we were game-planning today. We were going through all that stuff. Oh, geez. Really? It would have been something that would have been beyond everything. I had a good meeting with the staff this morning. We’re working and carrying on as we should and we need to. We got to get the players to do the same thing and really rely on each other right now.
On how staff roles will change: The biggest change is going to be the box — me being in the box or me being on the field. We’re just barely grasping on that in our staff meeting. One guy that may change his role significantly is Kevin Small, our GA. I’m going to start relying on him a lot more. Maybe pushing him up in the box. I’m very confident in what he can do, but he’s been on the field helping a lot. … There may be a little shift in that, but everything the same. Everybody else’s roles are the same. I’ll still be playing calls on Saturday. I’m going to need more help obviously from Levy and Coach Shaw and Criner for dealing with game-time situation deals. Everything kind of goes into that flow.
On if he is being considered a candidate for the permanent job: You know, it’s been implied. It hasn’t been said. And to be honest with you, that’s what I’m going for. I’d be very, very disappointed in myself, I’d be very, very disappointed in the guys around that if this opportunity came and I said, ‘You know what, we’re just going to get through and it is what it is and we just go our separate ways after this.’ If there’s a possibility of getting things turned and getting things going in a positive manner and being the next guy here, I’m going to do everything in my power to do that. Because that means this staff is a great staff and we can keep guys here on the staff and make that go the direction we want it to go.
But that’s a question that obviously Spear is going to have to answer, and you can ask him on that. In my mindset and the way we’re approaching things, that’s the way we’re going and doing everything we possibly can to make that possible.
On biggest thing to address with team: “Well, obviously with this whole situation, it turns. The biggest thing right now is it’s all about us being together. It’s all about us stepping forward. Not worrying about who’s doing what or how many stats this guy has or who has this, but having each other’s backs. Obviously you can see: We’re not scoring 53 points a game. We’re not shutting guys out. We’re not doing those things. So we’ve got to rely on each other. So that when somebody makes a mistake on offense or somebody makes a mistake on defense, we’ve got to go out there and respond on the other side of the ball. We’ve got to play together. We’ve got to play for each other. That’s the biggest thing we need right now. … Get the guys to realize that it’s not about how many touchdowns I catch or how many tackles I have or an interception I make, it’s about stepping forward and doing what’s better for the team. A player that makes a team great is a lot better than a great player. You need to have those guys, and that’s what we need to have right now — players that are going to help make this team great.
On how crazy the past couple years have been: Very, very crazy. It’s been almost as crazy as the last 18 hours or whatever it is now. Things are going fast. Things are going in certain directions that one could only — I don’t know how to phrase this right. … You want to get to a pinnacle in your career. You want to get to a place, and that’s your dream, your goal. For it to happen the way it’s happened and how quickly it’s happened, I don’t have words for it. How do you explain it? You can’t really explain it. It just is what it is and you’ve got to do your best with it and take every opportunity for what it’s worth and seize it. And that’s what I’m trying to do with this whole thing right now.
On addressing critics: That’s always going to happen when you’re in any kind of position of change or something different. To those guys, I would say, ‘Give us some faith. Give us a chance. We can pull some things together and we can do some good things here. Are the circumstances in the situation ideal? No. But are they ever? I don’t know how perfect life is for anybody. … In my train of thought and growing up as a little kid, not having a lot and having to fight through a lot of things and going through some battles, things happen for a reason. Whatever they may be, we don’t know right now. But things happen for a reason. And we’ve got to have faith they happen for a reason. And we’ve got to move forward and take every opportunity for what it’s worth. And to those guys, just have some faith in the guys that are in a position to do their jobs. That’s the one thing. Everybody has a job. Everybody has a role. We’ve got to live by those jobs and do those jobs and do those roles, because that’s why you’re hired there, that’s what you’re there for. And you’re there to ask questions right now and do the camera, that’s your role. That’s your job. I’ve been there. I know you are doing what you’re doing. That’s just the way it is, and we rely on you to do that. The same way we rely on Rob Spear to make the correct decisions and do those things. The same way we rely on ourselves to make the right offensive plays. The quarterback to execute them. The line — everybody has a role and a job. So have some faith in our role and our job and what we have the guys here doing. And I believe it will turn out in a positive manner.
On believing team can win some of remaining games: Yes, I do. We have a team right, don’t get me wrong, they’re hurting. But I do believe that if we come together and these guys play for each other … and more than anything, Coach Akey, when he left that room last night, … he’s said to me million of times when I was a player over there with Mike Price, ‘It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you respond to what happens to you.’ And he wasn’t just referring to himself in his situation, but referring to us. And I think he’d be very disappointed that if these guys, they didn’t go out there and give it everything they’ve got to win these last remaining games this season. And I truly believe, if we go out there and play for each other and play with a purpose, that we can win some of these games coming up here. The only one that really matters is the one after this bye week with San Jose State.
On if this serves as a reminder that there is a business element to this: Yeah, it is a business. That’s the hardest part about it. Everything we do — the decisions that are made in any business anywhere you’re going to get close to people in your business. You’re going to develop friendships. You’re going to develop bonds. And this one a little bit more because of the fact of how much sheer time you spend with each other. We sit there and spend 18 hours a day — 16, 18 hours a day — looking at each other’s ugly faces and going through that whole thing. Seeing these kids grow up. Developing those guys growing up. And you develop those relationships. But at the end of the day, it is (a business). It’s something about money, it’s something about success. And when you choose to get into the profession, you choose to take this road, you’ve got to realize that. Whenever that day comes when something happening and one of my friends may have to fire me, it’s a business. I’m not going to hold it against them. That’s kind of the way it is.
It sucks to say it goes that way, but it does. In the NFL, the trickle down of things happening now and success happening now, it’s coming down to college, it’s coming down to high school. And it’s a beast, and it’s growing and growing and growing. It’s only going to get worse before it gets better. And you’ve got to realize that, and we do.
How he learned he was interim coach: After Coach Akey came in and told us, Rob (Spear) also came in and also talked to us. And he wanted to talk to us individually after that. So he pulled each coach individually. When he pulled me in, he asked me about it. That was the first time. Then after he talked to every single coach, he pulled us all back in again and then he told me that he was deciding to go with myself as the interim head coach.
On if Spear asked if he would take the job: He asked if I would do it, and when you talk to him, he’ll tell you I was drawn back for a second. I was drawn back and the hesitation of, ‘This is a big deal.’ I’m grateful that he has faith in myself. I’m grateful that he’s given me this opportunity and believes in what I can do and what I can accomplish. Not only myself, but the staff that I have that I mentioned earlier. But it’s something that I never thought I … and don’t get me wrong, it’s an interim head job, but it may be the only time I’m a head coach. Seriously. Reality, right? It may be. I hope it’s not, but it may be. Did I think it would got this way to become a head guy? Not in a million years. But it has and you’ve got to take it for what it’s worth and take advantage of the opportunity.
On what he’s most looking forward to about being a head coach: It’s the same thing I enjoy that you mentioned earlier when I was at Eastside Catholic — being able to be apart of everything. Implementing the things and doing the things that you feel is right for the program and for the kids. I believed (in) a lot of the stuff Akey was doing and we’re carrying on a lot of those things. Trust me. I’m just excited for the opportunity of being honest with you, seeing what I can do. It’s not an easy situation, but I’ve never really had a lot of easy situations in my life, so I’m kind of used to it. Just interested to seeing how it’s all going to shake out, you know? And enjoying it. And putting my best foot forward and doing everything I possibly can for these kids and for these coaches so we can have success.
On how precarious this situation is with Idaho going independent next year, etc.: It’s not an ideal situation, but we’re moving forward in recruiting. Like I said earlier, I’m going to recruit here, I’m going to coach here for the next five weeks — until Rob says, ‘You know what, you’re not the head guy anymore‘ — I’m going to do it like I’m going to be here for 20 years. And that’s my goal. And we’re going to recruit that way, and we’re going to push things out that way. And try to put the program in the best light and the best foot forward. If we’re making it better for the next guys that after us because I’m not the next head guy here, then we’re making it better. But at the end of the day, we’re making it better for the kids. Making it better for the program. And that’s it. That’s part of the business. That’s part of the way it goes. But that’s the way we’re pushing our foot forward, and that’s the way we’re approaching this whole recruiting thing because recruiting’s everything. When you want to get the right kids in the right situation and the right fit for the program, you’ve got to do it all the time. You can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s a bad situation so now we’re going to stop.’ You can’t do that. So that’s the way we’re pushing forward right now.
On his expectations for first practice: You know what, that’s a great question. … We were just talking about that upstairs. We’re getting together on Wednesday and we’re getting together on Thursday of this week. That was the plan previously before all this went on, and we’re sticking with that plan. As far as that first practice, we’ll have a team meeting before go out there to hopefully clear the air a little bit. Let guys take everything in for today and for tomorrow how the whole scenario is. But I truly hope that our leaders step forward. I truly hope that our internal guys in our team start saying the right things and starting doing the right things and getting these guys to the point where, you know what, it’s not going to be a pity fest. Are we going to be sad? Yeah. We’re hurting. We’re going to hurt. But we’re also to put our best foot forward and keep on going on because, like we kind of mentioned to them in there, when a player gets hurt or something happens, those games still continue to come on and they still go. We can just shut everything down. So I hope over today and tomorrow they can start understanding that and realizing that. Do I expect for them that it will be easy? No. Not at all. But I do hope that they step forward and have that best foot forward — and have a decent practice. Have a fun practice. We’re going to play a lot of the younger guys. A lot of the younger guys are going to play more Wednesday and Thursday and have a little scrimmage bowl with the young guys and kind of developing them a little bit more. I think at the end of the day, it will be fun and start going in a positive direction.
When he made the decision: It was shortly after the game on Saturday night that I had communications with the president of the university, Duane Nellis, and we made that decision.
On how long this took: We had been evaluating the program the entire season.
On the final straw: Well, it’s all about performance on the football field. You look at over the last 20 games, we’ve lost 17 of those football games. Coach Akey’s done a lot of nice things here, but at the end of the day his record was 20-50.
On why he chose Gesser as interim coach: A couple things: I thought it was important to have a coordinator-level person, somebody that’s already been in charge of one side of the football. Jason has demonstrated great leadership skills as a player, as a young coach. I think he has a great rapport with the players on this football team. I think he’s willing to take advantage of the expertise on this staff. I told all those guys yesterday, I think this is some of the best assistant coaches we’ve ever had here at the University of Idaho from an experience standpoint. They’re more than willing to help Jason. Jason’s more willing then willing to ask them for advice. So when it came down to it, I thought Jason was the right choice.
On whether Gesser is a candidate: I told all the coaches yesterday: I have great respect for them. And I think they’re a great group. And I think this is an opportunity for them. One of the questions that I was asked was why make the change now. I want to give this staff an opportunity to see what they can do with this football program. I think we have talent on this football program, and I want to give them the ability to take this program in a different direction. Everybody’s a candidate at this time.
On if it will be difficult to find a coach given Idaho’s situation: I don’t. Because I think the opportunities at the University of Idaho far outweigh the challenges. And the University of Idaho has a history of coaches, having them make a name for themselves. So I think there’s a great opportunity here to come in, make a difference and turn a program around. There are a lot of people willing to take on that challenge.
On the source of the money to pay Akey: (It comes) from our budget. From our athletic department budget.
On criticism of his performance as AD and how important this hire is to his future: I think if you look at the data, we have a very successful athletic program. Last year we finished second in the Commissioner's Cup in the WAC. So the data shows that we were the second-best athletic program in the Western Athletic Conference. So I’ll let that record stand for itself.
Every hire that I make is an important hire. And we will do the right thing here and do our due diligence and we’ll make the right here for the University of Idaho.
On why he made the choice now instead of last offseason: We had a lot of confidence in Coach Akey. We thought making a few staff changes would make a difference. Nobody wants him to be more successful than myself or the rest of this department. It just became apparent that the direction of the program was not going in the right place.
On whether players lost respect for Akey lately: We have high expectations for our players. I think we all want to say we could have performed better. I know our players have tried hard, our coaches have coached hard. The results haven’t been there. We just need to go in a different direction.
On Akey’s reaction: It was a tough day. It was a tough decision. It’s something that I wouldn’t want to have to go through again. But his reaction when you’re faced with something like that, I would say was positive. Positive as you can be in that moment.
On whether he wants a former head coach: I think the most important things are the characteristics that we want. Obviously we want somebody from a successful program. I want somebody that understands the Northwest and is going to be able to recruit the Northwest. I want somebody who’s going to be able to recruit a high character kid. I want them to hold them accountable. And I want discipline in the program. So those would be the characteristics. And I don’t think you need to say it has to be a former or current head coach. It could be an up-and-coming assistant. I think we’re going to be very open in this process.
Preference on hiring a defensive- or offensive-minded coach: There will be a lot of things that we’ll evaluate. But at the end, we’ll hire the right person for this job.
On timeline: We’re going to move quickly, obviously. That’s one of the reasons we made this decision when we did, so we could get a head start. Recruiting is ongoing. I would love to have somebody on board sooner than later. I’m not going to lock myself in to a time. But obviously, this is going to give us an opportunity to complete the search in a timely manner.
Eyes on anybody outside university? … I think I said I have my eyes on everybody.
Any prospects right now? … Sure, absolutely. I think it would be very inappropriate at this time to talk about anybody. But do I have a list of names? Sure I do.
On relationship with Akey: It’s fine.