Breaking through walls— Gesser moving forward despite difficult schedule ahead
Ten years ago, 10 miles to the west, Jason Gesser became a Cougar legend. In 2002, the former Washington State quarterback led the program to its second Rose Bowl appearance in five years. Now, Gesser has an opportunity to make his mark on the other side of the Palouse.
Last week, the 33-year old offensive coordinator of Idaho was named interim head coach when the school decided to terminate Robb Akey’s contract mid-season.
It’s an opportunity Gesser seems to not be taking lightly.
Gesser said it’s been implied he is a candidate for the full-time job.
“To be honest, that’s what I’m going for,” he said. “The way we’re approaching things, that’s the way we’re going and doing everything we possibly can to make that possible.”
Impressing athletic director Rob Spear enough for the full-time gig to be handed to him may prove to be difficult. Gesser is only in his second full year of being on a college coaching staff. On top of that, three of Idaho’s four final opponents are teams with winning records, all likely to play in bowl games.
Adversity isn’t anything new to the former quarterback. In 2002, Gesser suffered a leg injury in WSU’s loss to rival Washington in the annual Apple Cup game. Two weeks later he hobbled onto the field at UCLA with a brace on his knee and led WSU to the Pac-10-clinching victory against the Bruins.
“There’s no way that anyone can keep me out of the Rose Bowl,” he told the Associated Press the night after the victory.
His mindset is similar knowing his present situation is a similar type of challenge — taking the reigns of the injured psyche of Idaho football.
“I don’t have any magic dust,” Gesser said during the Vandal radio network coaches show Tuesday. “It’s reality, we don’t have that. But we will start implementing little things here or there … It’s a four-game season (now).”
That turnaround may not happen right away. Idaho’s next game comes against 5-2 San Jose State, which thrashed Texas-San Antonio last week.
Back in his playing days at Washington State, that turnaround didn’t happen right away for Gesser either. WSU went 4-7 Gesser’s first year as the full-time starter in 2000, including a loss to Idaho at Martin Stadium. The Cougars went on to lose only five games combined the next two seasons with Gesser under center.
In the coming weeks, Gesser will expect — or at least hope — leaders on the team will find a way to break through metaphorical walls so that the rest can follow.
“The first guy through that wall is always going to get bloody, no matter what,” he said on the coaches’ show. “But you get through that wall and there’s going to be a lot of guys following you.”
The charge began Wednesday when Idaho practiced for the first time since Akey was dismissed. Wednesday’s practice, closed to the public, was a light practice, Gesser said. Yesterday Idaho held an open practice, which featured a “Scout Bowl” in which the younger players scrimmaged with the upperclassmen coaching and calling the plays.
Gesser said it would be a fun way for the team to come together during practice.
“(We need to) have that be our sanctuary, have that be our place where we’re coming together,” he said.
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org