MOSCOW, Idaho – Robb Akey spent the last year helping Jason Gesser find his way as a rookie college coach. And before that, he spent four seasons watching Gesser command the huddle at Washington State.
Both experiences helped confirm in Akey’s mind that the former Cougars star quarterback is ready to be Idaho’s offensive coordinator.
“He’s played in an offense that had a lot to do with what we’re working to do and what our offense is going to be,” said Akey, after announcing Gesser’s promotion to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “He played it at a high level at college and the professional level.”
Gesser, 32, replaces Steve Axman, who retired in December after UI completed a 2-10 season during which the club’s offense was woefully inept. The Vandals finished 111th out of 120 FBS teams in total offense.
Two seasons ago Gesser was head coach and assistant athletic director at Eastside Catholic High in Sammamish, Wash. He spent five years at the high school level while finishing a pro career that included stints with the Tennessee Titans of the NFL, the Calgary Stampede of the Canadian Football League and the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League.
Last summer Gesser had decided to take a noncoaching position at WSU before a spot opened up on Akey’s staff at Idaho. He was hired as running backs coach and quickly made an impression as an aggressive recruiter and teacher.
“You know, I didn’t think it would be this quick,” Gesser said. “But at the end of the day, I’m very, very grateful and very, very ready for the challenge and the opportunity to show my ability …”
Gesser and Akey anticipate a smooth transition after Axman’s retirement. The Vandals will run the same single-back, multiple-formation offense they have throughout Akey’s tenure – but Gesser said he’ll bring “my own little flavor, my own little feel” to the job.
“The biggest thing that I think I am going to bring to the table is more teaching and more responsibility upon the kids,” the Hawaii native said. “Instead of instructing them and saying, ‘Here’s what we want you to do,’ we’re going to teach them about what we’re doing and why. Why are we doing this? Why are we attacking this way?
“Putting more ownership on them to make them understand that and to be able to play more freely on the field.”
With his new responsibilities, Gesser will be the Vandals’ play caller, coach the quarterbacks and be accountable for managing the offense – something he has only done as a high school coach.
But Akey isn’t concerned about Gesser’s inexperience at the college level, largely because of the ex-QB’s years spent running offenses and changing plays on the fly. The Vandals’ sixth-year coach also expects Gesser to lean on his offensive staff, which has yet to be filled.
Akey has replacements lined up for the three vacancies on his staff – offensive line coach, receivers coach and running backs coach. But he said he’s not close to announcing the hires because of each coach’s contract situation with other schools.
One new assistant is expected to be Mike Levenseller, the longtime WSU receivers coach who was not retained by Mike Leach.
Although Gesser’s offense will look familiar to Vandal fans, Akey said, “I expect (our offense) to be better than what we did last year because it wasn’t good enough.”