Report Card: Robb Akey
Former Idaho coach Robb Akey introduced Idaho fans to the program’s FBS pinnacle with four words: “You’re gonna love it.”
He uttered those words to the ESPN sideline reporter during halftime of the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl to urge the fans at home to watch the second half. The Vandals won that game in the final seconds thanks to the famous two-point conversion attempt.
Unfortunately for Akey, the fact that 2009 was his only winning season out of six in Moscow sealed his fate when he was dismissed as coach last week.
Here, we break down Akey’s career at the University of Idaho. An important thing to remember as we get in to these grades is that, even though a coach is ultimately judged on what happens on the football field (which they should be), that is not the only thing head coaches of FBS football programs are responsible for. They must uphold the image of the institution in the community and among the alumni, in addition to the mentorship and wellbeing of the 85-plus players who are a part the football program.
Recruiting and player development: C+
Idaho has actually turned out some decent NFL talent in Akey’s tenure as head coach. Korey Toomer, Tyrone Novikoff, JoJo Dickson, Matt Cleveland, Michael Cosgrove, Eric Greenwood and Princeton McCarty were good Akey recruits who have left the program with opportunities in NFL training camps. Rob Siavii, Trey Farquhar, Bobby Cowan, Gary Walker and Mike Scott are other Akey recruits that should get legitimate shots in NFL camps.
On the other hand, program changers that helped Idaho win the 2009 H-Bowl weren’t Akey recruits. Mike Iupati came into the program with Nick Holt, but debuted under Dennis Erickson. Nathan Enderle, Shiloh Keo and Max Komar were also brought in under Holt. Still, Akey deserves credit for developing them into that 8-5 team.
The cupboard isn’t dry for the next coach either. Players like S Ma’ne Manaea, QB Chad Chalich, RB Todd Handley, C Mike Marboe, CB Jayshawn Jordan and WR Camryn Harris prove to be exciting young talent, but it remains to be seen if that group of players could turn in to the group that Keo, Enderle and Iupati were part of.
It’s hard to argue against the results, and the results were that once Holt and Erickson’s players started to phase out of the program, the team struggled, though the team struggled earlier in those players’ careers as well. Robb Akey only had one winning season in Moscow and only one other season out of six in which he had more than two wins. Still, he gets credit for spending two years molding that 2009 team .
Can the next guy come in and get more out of the players already on campus? That also remains to be seen.
Close games: D+
Akey’s tenure at Idaho could have been drastically different if the outcome of so many one-possession games would have just flipped the other direction. In 2011, Idaho lost four games by one possession or less, finishing 2-10. In 2010, the Vandals lost two such games, finishing 6-7. That’s the difference between Robb Akey finishing his career 20-50 and three consecutive bowl appearances. Akey finished 9-12 in his career in one-possession games, five of those wins coming in 2009 and one of those wins coming against an FCS school. Idaho is 3-8 in such games since 2009. Idaho could be 3-4 this season if games against Bowling Green and Wyoming swung the other way.
There are numerous reasons for Idaho struggling in these games such as lack of physical preparedness, the team not having the right mental mindset, or simply being out-coached. It could also be a lack of talent. In even match-ups, the more talented team tends to break out in the fourth quarter. Idaho was rarely that team.
Idaho put a lot on Nick Holt’s shoulders when he was named head coach in 2004. Holt was supposed to lead this program forward when it was invited into the Western Athletic Conference, but he bolted after Idaho’s first season in the WAC. Idaho’s next coach was on campus for 10 months before he left for what he thought was greener pastures. Idaho and its fan base was figuratively stabbed in the back twice within the course of a calendar year.
When Robb Akey took this job, he took it because he wanted the job. Akey had already been on the Palouse for eight years before coming to Idaho, and he chose to relocate his family to Moscow from Pullman after taking this job because he wanted to be a part of the Moscow and Idaho Vandal community. That kind of loyalty and enthusiasm for a school deserves to be appreciated by a student body and a fan base, and it has been in the wake of his dismissal. Akey gave six years to this program and had no intentions to leave.
Even among bigger programs in bigger markets it’s difficult to find a coach who wants to stay in one place and represent the school. It’s even harder to find a coach who does all of that and wins football games. Unfortunately for Akey, he wasn’t able to accomplish the latter part of that, which is every bit as important.
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org