MOSCOW, Idaho – Robb Akey, a football coach for more than 20 years, went into the interview with the former quarterback who was hoping for his first full-time college coaching gig with one thing in mind.
He wanted to see how well Jason Gesser could teach.
This was back in June, when Akey had a vacancy to fill on his Idaho football staff. He knew of Gesser’s charisma and ability to connect with high school players. He had coached at Washington State when Gesser was an All-America QB with the Cougars as a senior in 2002.
But he wanted to make sure Gesser could handle what had the chance to be an awkward switch – from longtime quarterback to high school coach to … running backs coach at UI.
“If you can teach, you can coach,” Akey said. “… In the process of watching him develop and the way we were able to interview him, he handled that process. There was a teaching progression, an ability to teach.”
With the Vandals’ preseason camp winding down, Gesser is focused on developing a deep crop of tailbacks and finding a yet-to-be named starter from the group. But he’s also proven to be a valuable mentor for Brian Reader and Idaho’s other quarterbacks.
By the first day of fall practice, Reader – the club’s starter after two years as backup – had already leaned on the 32-year-old Gesser for guidance. Two years ago, he went to then-QBs coach Jonathan Smith, who eventually left for Montana, to ask questions. Last year it was fifth-year signal-caller Nate Enderle.
“He’s really similar to Coach Smith who was here before,” Reader said of Gesser.
“Having a young guy in there who’s seen it in kind of a new style of how things are going in football these days (is helpful).”
Gesser said offensive coordinator and QBs coach Steve Axman is completely open to having him address the quarterbacks when he sees fits. Yet when Reader, Taylor Davis or Logan Bushnell come to him to relive a specific play in practice, Gesser sometimes has to remind them which position he coaches.
“If I see something, I’ll let them know,” Gesser said. “But if I’m watching the running backs and somehow missed it, I’ll tell them, ‘Hey, I was looking at this.’ But I’ve been constantly helping them out (and answering) any questions they may have on those things.”
Gesser spent the last five years coaching at high schools in Washington, most recently at Eastside Catholic in Sammamish. He resigned with the intent of joining WSU in a non-coaching position.
But his replacement at Eastside Catholic, Jeremy Thielbahr, happened to be UI’s former running backs coach and co-special teams coordinator. When Thielbahr left, Akey had an open spot on his staff – a full-time coaching job.
In less than two months on the job, Gesser has discovered that moving from teaching QBs and the offense in general to running backs is “probably the easiest transition because of the fact that a lot of things you’re looking at as a quarterback – making your reads, checking the fronts, seeing the blitzes – you’ve already seen all those things.”
Gesser’s insights as a former quarterback have already started to pay off for Idaho’s running backs. Kama Bailey, a senior in the starting mix, said Gesser has pushed the ballcarriers to look at a play the way a QB would and “open up our minds with what’s happening out on the field.”
It’s all part of the teaching process, and “I’m loving it,” Gesser said.