Two years ago, Jason Gesser was coaching high school football. 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 Sunday.
He teared up and 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 in five-plus seasons. He was 1-7 this season after a 70-28 loss at Louisiana Tech on Saturday night.
That loss prompted the change, Athletic Director Rob Spear said Monday. He said he spoke with university President Duane Nellis shortly after the loss and the decision was made to fire Akey.
Weve been evaluating the program the entire season, Spear said. Its all about performance on the football field. In the last 20 games, weve lost 17 of those football games.
Spear said he was confident that coaching changes made by Akey in the offseason would help the Vandals fortunes. Akeys teams were 3-17 over the past two seasons, and the Vandals have had only one winning season in the past 13.
It became apparent that the direction of the program was not going in the right place, Spear said.
Spear said 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 as soon as possible.
Spear said he wants the next coach to be someone who comes from a successful program, who understands and can recruit the Northwest, who recruits high-character players and runs the program with discipline. He said he has a list of potential candidates but declined to disclose names.
Idaho, which has a bye this week before hosting San Jose State on Oct. 27, will play next season as an independent without a conference affiliation. Idaho announced its schedule on Friday.
This past week we have made a number of important decisions to ensure our university and our athletic programs are headed in the right direction for our long-term success, Nellis said. Some difficult decisions were made, but as the proud leader of this national university, I stand by these decisions and I am confident they will move us toward a brighter future.
Even without a conference home and uncertain status after 2013, Spear believes the school can attract a strong coach.
I think the opportunities at the University of Idaho far outweigh the challenges, he said. Its a great opportunity to come in here, make a difference and turn a program around.
Gesser, a star quarterback at Washington State, wants that opportunity despite less than two years of college coaching experience.
He said he would be disappointed in himself if he did not try to earn the permanent job. Spear chose him as the interim coach after meeting with the coaching staff individually and as a group.
Gesser said the circumstances were not ideal, but that college football is a business.
Its an interim head job, but this may be the only time Im a head coach. Ive got to take it for what it is worth, Gesser said. Did I think it would go this way? No, but it has.
Idahos lone victory came against New Mexico State, but Gesser is confident the Vandals can win more before the end of the season. In addition to San Jose State, the Vandals have games at BYU, at Utah State and home against Texas-San Antonio.
Gesser plans a team meeting Wednesday to allow players to express their feelings.
Its not going to be a pity fest, he said. Were going to put our best foot forward and go on.