MOSCOW, Idaho – Mid-afternoon on Monday, the sign outside the most prominent coach’s office in the Kibbie Dome still read: “Robb Akey, Head Football Coach.”
A few hours earlier, Jason Gesser had met with the media for the first time as Idaho’s interim coach. And 18 hours before his introductory news conference, he first heard that Akey – his former boss and coach at Washington State – had been fired.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Gesser said.
Gesser had yet to process all that had unfolded, and he was at a loss to explain how he found himself – at the age of 33 and in his second year as a collegiate coach – running an FBS program.
But he had plenty to say about his vision for the Vandals football program.
Gesser might be in this position for just a few short weeks, but “I’m going to do it like I’m going to be here for 20 years,” he said.
The former WSU All-America quarterback, sporting a black pinstripe suit and gray tie, made it clear he wants the full-time gig. For now, though, he won’t move into Akey’s old office and he won’t give up the playcalling duties he assumed this season as UI’s offensive coordinator.
“It’s not just me,” Gesser said. “It’s our staff. It’s the guys we have on our staff.
“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.”
Athletic director Rob Spear indicated that Gesser, like everyone else on the staff, will be considered for the head coaching position. Spear already has a list of names he wants to talk to, and he’d like to settle on a hire “sooner than later.”
“One of the questions that I was asked was why make the change now,” Spear said. “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.”
Spear called UI president Duane Nellis shortly after Idaho lost 70-28 at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, and they came to a quick decision to dismiss Akey after five-plus seasons and a 20-50 record.
On Sunday afternoon, the coaches met with Akey, who broke the news to them. Spear then met with the staff as a group and individually before telling the assistants he was turning over control of the program to Gesser.
Akey was the first FBS coach fired this season. It’s believed to be the earliest in a season that a Vandals football coach has been fired.
“It’s all about performance on the football field,” Spear said. “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.”
More than finding a coach with previous experience leading a program, Spear said he wants someone from a successful program who understands what it takes to recruit in the Northwest.
“I want somebody who’s going to be able to recruit a high-character kid,” Spear said. “I want them to hold them accountable. And I want discipline in the program.”
Spear told The Spokesman-Review 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 – one of the lowest salaries for a head coach at the FBS level.
Gesser said it’s been implied in conversations with Spear that he’ll be a candidate for the job. He’s almost certain to have the least experience of anyone considered, but Spear said he’s been impressed by Gesser’s charisma, leadership skills and willingness to listen to the veteran voices on the UI coaching staff.
Gesser credited Akey for giving him a chance to coach collegiately, and for mentoring him in their year-plus together in Moscow. He teared up while talking about all that Akey had done for him.
“Akey’s been everything for me. The guy means a lot,” Gesser said, before pausing for several seconds.
“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.”