MOSCOW, Idaho – Former Idaho football coach Keith Gilbertson met with athletic director Rob Spear about the Vandals’ vacant job earlier this month. But the conversation was more about the direction of the UI program, Gilbertson said, than the potential of him coming back to the Palouse.
Gilbertson, 64, was on his way to watch Washington State, where his son is a quarterback, play UCLA on Nov. 10 when Spear called him. The two talked about “where Idaho is going” and ways to rejuvenate the program, Gilbertson said.
The longtime college and NFL coach acknowledged Spear gauged his interest in the job, but it never went further than that. He said he’s not a candidate for the position – though he may have been had Idaho opted for the Big Sky Conference over Football Bowl Subdivision independence for next season.
“Yeah, that’s a possibility,” Gilbertson said Tuesday from his home in Woodinville, Wash. “I think it’s a real good league and we had a lot of success there. But I’m not saying we can’t compete at any level.”
Idaho was set to interview Wyoming defensive coordinator and former UI coach Chris Tormey and San Jose State offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren on Tuesday. Tormey and Lindgren are believed to be two of five finalists.
Interim coach Jason Gesser told The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday afternoon that he’ll also interview again for the job, though the date for his follow-up meeting with Spear and the hiring committee has yet to be determined. Gesser said he’s been told by Spear that he’s still in the mix for the full-time gig.
Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman told the Casper Star-Tribune that he spoke with Spear about Tormey on Monday, and that Spear hopes to name a new coach by the middle of next week.
Gilbertson, meanwhile, said he feels strongly that the Big Sky can again be a good spot for the Vandals. From 1986 to 1988, he won 28 games and two Big Sky titles in Moscow after taking over for Dennis Erickson.
Idaho jumped from the Big Sky to the then-Division I-A ranks in 1996. It has enjoyed just four winning seasons since and has contemplated becoming the first program to drop from the FBS to Football Championship Subdivision.
“I just know this: Starting in 1982 and through the years that Dennis, myself, John (L. Smith) and Chris Tormey were there, there was a lot of pride in Idaho football and great self-esteem in the program and what we were trying to do,” he said. “We were in a league and competing for a championship every year. I think a lot of people felt good about it.
“I think the other thing,” he said, “which is the most important thing – is that we were providing a great collegiate experience for our players and our program.”
Gilbertson retired in February after being a senior assistant for the Cleveland Browns. He traveled all season with the Cougars to be close to his son, David, who just finished his redshirt junior season.
The former Washington and Cal coach has kept a close connection to UI and said he was curious about the school’s plans before talking to Spear.
Asked where he thinks the Vandals will land after 2013, he said it’s hard to predict because of ongoing questions about conference realignment and how money for the new four-team FBS playoff will be divvied up.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a crystal ball.”