MOSCOW, Idaho – The thought crossed Robb Akey’s mind. He hadn’t coached or played football at the University of Idaho, which was a prerequisite to landing the head coaching job in the Vandals’ last seven searches.
That streak started with Dennis Erickson, who replaced Jerry Davitch (1978-81) in 1982. It ended with Dennis Erickson in 2006.
“I did expect that might make it more difficult,” Akey said. “Whether that was a change they were looking for I don’t know, but going for a job is no different than competing to win a game or win over a recruit. You’re going after something you want. I can’t control those other things.
“If I got the job or didn’t get the job, they knew what they were going to get from Robb Akey.”
Akey got the job, winning over Idaho officials with his boundless energy, his track record of stability and his proven ability to recruit players to the Palouse. Akey was officially introduced as Idaho’s head coach Wednesday.
“I’d be silly to say we didn’t consider people in the Vandal family, but I thought it was more important to look for the best coach regardless where they’ve come from,” UI athletic director Rob Spear said. “In this case it was Robb.”
Akey, 40, agreed to a five-year contract, but terms weren’t disclosed. Portland State coach Tim Walsh, who was a finalist for the job, told the Oregonian newspaper that Idaho was prepared to offer $250,000 annually with a buyout beginning at $1 million and presumably decreasing the longer the coach stays. The buyout was a major issue after Idaho saw Erickson leave for Arizona State after just 10 months on the job.
Akey addressed the pertinent issues facing Idaho – recruiting, stability on the coaching staff, bruised feelings among players from Erickson’s hasty departure and facilities in need of upgrading.
“I’m going into my 20th year of coaching, this is only my fourth job,” said Akey, who plans on selling his house in Pullman and moving to Moscow. “This is a big reason right here (motioning at wife Molly and sons Jack and Daniel). They don’t need transition all over the place. We’re very fortunate to have Molly’s family right up the road.”
Akey said he will call every returning player in the next 48 hours to introduce himself. He also plans to visit the players’ families in the coming months.
“We just want someone who has some faith in us and wants to believe in us and believe in this program,” running back Jayson Bird said. “And we know coach Akey will.”
Akey was on Idaho’s list in 2003, but didn’t pursue the job because the Vandals had an interim president, interim athletic director and conference affiliation issues at the time.
“The fact that now we’re in the WAC gives us a better opportunity to recruit,” Akey said. “I know there’s a lot of work to be done here, but I hear a commitment toward making it happen.”
Akey said leaving his job as WSU defensive coordinator was tough and telling head coach Bill Doba was tougher.
“He threw some things out there for me to think about and (retiring WSU) President (Lane) Rawlins was the same way,” Akey said. “They were very supportive.”
Doba said he hasn’t had much time to think about Akey’s replacement, but one option is taking over defensive coordinator duties himself and then hiring another assistant coach.
“Robb was my right-hand man when I was the defensive coordinator,” Doba said. “I”m losing one heck of a coach, a good recruiter and more importantly, a good friend and fishing buddy.”
Akey said his staff won’t include any of WSU’s full-time assistants. In the near future, Akey will interview assistants left at Idaho by Erickson about the possibility of staying on. Former WSU linebacker Al Genatone will be part of Idaho’s staff, Akey said. Ex-Vandals linebacker Patrick Libey, a Cougars graduate assistant, is another possibility.
Akey won’t serve as his own defensive coordinator. Ex-Idaho State coach Larry Lewis is thought to be under consideration. Montana quarterbacks coach Steve Axman, who was the head coach at Northern Arizona when Akey was an assistant, might be in the mix for offensive coordinator.
After 19 years as an assistant coach, Akey feels he’s ready to be a head coach.
“The opportunity to be a head coach was an important thing,” Akey said, “but I think we have an opportunity to make some great things happen here. A year ago (when Erickson was hired) I saw a great spark get lit here and obviously with what’s transpired in the last week that’s brought about some more emotion, whether that’s rage or disappointment, whatever that might be.
“What I see is there is a great deal of emotion and a great deal of people that care, and if we can channel all that energy toward making this place a better opportunity, we have a chance to make something great happen.”
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