MOSCOW, Idaho – Two years ago, Jason Gesser was coaching a high school football team. On Monday, he was introduced as the interim head coach at Idaho.
Gesser, 33, will coach the Vandals in their remaining four games, replacing Robb Akey, who was fired on Sunday. Gesser said he would like to be considered for the permanent job.
Gesser teared up and he struggled to speak as he recalled how Akey plucked him two years ago from Eastside Catholic High in Sammamish, Wash., to be the Vandals' running backs coach. Gesser was promoted to offensive coordinator prior to this season.
"He gave me a chance to become a college coach and a coordinator. I owe my life to the guy," Gesser said. "This is not an easy situation."
Akey was 20-50 as head coach of the Vandals, including 1-7 this season. Idaho was blown out 70-28 by Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
That loss prompted the change, athletic director Rob Spear said Monday. He said he spoke with university President Duane Nellis shortly after the loss to Tech and the decision was made to fire Akey.
"We've been evaluating the program the entire season," Spear said. "At the end of the day, his record was 20-50."
Spear indicated that Gesser will have an opportunity to land the job on a full-time basis, but also said he plans a nationwide search and will make a decision on a new coach as soon as possible.
Asked if he had a list of candidate names, Spear said: "Sure I do."
He declined to disclose them.
Idaho plays in the Western Athletic Conference, which is dropping football after this year. The Vandals will play as an independent next season, and Spear is trying to get them into a conference.
Idaho has a bye this week, and then hosts San Jose State.
Gesser was a star quarterback at nearby Washington State. His time at Idaho is his only college coaching experience.
"Obviously, I want to become a head coach," Gesser said. "That's something I get a chance to do now."
He said he would be disappointed in himself if he did not try to earn the permanent job.
Asked about rising from the high school ranks to an FBS head coaching job in two seasons, Gesser described the trip as "very, very, very, very crazy."
"Things are going fast," he said.
He said the circumstances were not ideal, but that college football is a business.
"One of my friends may have to fire me," he said. "It's a business."
Gesser believes the Vandals, who have beaten only New Mexico State this season, can win some of their remaining games. He said Akey would want the team to come together and play its best. The Vandals also have games at BYU, at Utah State and home against Texas-San Antonio.
He acknowledged that at this point he is an interim coach.
"But it may be my only time as a head coach," Gesser said. "I've got to take it for what it is worth."
"I'm going to recruit here and coach here for the next five weeks," Gesser said. "I'll do it like I was going to be here for the next 20 years."
Gesser plans a team meeting on Wednesday to allow players to express their feelings.
"It's not going to be a pity fest," he said. "We're going to put our best foot forward and go on."
Akey's teams were 3-17 over the past two seasons, and the Vandals have had only one winning season in the past 13.
Akey's buyout calls for him to receive his base salary of $165,000 a year through December 2014, or until he is hired by another program.