As he prepares to hire a fourth football coach since becoming Idahos athletic director in 2003, Rob Spear is confident that he can find the right man to turn around the program.
There arent many athletic directors who get five chances to get the most important hire in the department right and there is a growing chorus of Idaho fans who dont think Spear should get the chance to replace Robb Akey, who was fired Sunday.
Junior tight end Taylor Elmo put his frustration into a tweet Sunday night, suggesting that Spears decision to fire Akey was in part to keep the heat off of him.
Fire a man to keep your own job??? Elmo tweeted.
Spear bristled at the idea that this decision would have a larger reflection on him than others.
The first three coaches he hired went 29-76. Nick Holt left for a coordinator job at USC. Dennis Erickson, considered a coup at the time, bolted for Arizona State after one season. And then there was Akey, a successful defensive coordinator at Washington State.
University President Duane Nellis issued a statement of support after Akeys firing.
Every hire I make is an important hire, Spear said. We will do the right thing here.
Even if the midseason timing felt a bit odd, the case for firing the personable Akey was clear and defensible. In five-plus seasons, he was 20-50. The Vandals are 3-17 since the start of 2011 and rank No. 117 in the country in scoring offense (16.0) and scoring defense (42.0) through eight games and seven losses this season.
Its all about performance on the football field, Spear said.
Spear, who got his PhD from Idaho in 1989, defended his department-wide record in the wake of Akeys firing.
We have a very successful athletic program. The data shows we are the second-best athletic program in the WAC. Ill let that stand for itself, Spear said.
While Idaho finished second in the WAC Commissioners Cup standings in 2011-12, the department finished sixth or seventh in the leagues all-sport standings in each of the previous five years.
But it is football that towers above all else in intercollegiate athletics and it is there that the Vandals have struggled under Spear. Those problems run far deeper than any single football coach.
Since 2000, under four head coaches, Idaho has had just one winning season (2009) and has won fewer than 33 percent of its games (40-121). Until those underlying factors are addressed, its hard to see how the next coach will avoid a similar fate.
Akeys $365,767 salary ranked among the bottom 15 in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the total staff compensation ranked as the sixth-lowest in the FBS, according to USA Today. Spear said next head coach would be paid about the same.
Despite improvements to the athletic facilities and the Kibbie Dome under Spear, the Vandals facilities are sub-par compared to most of their competitors.
Idaho is without a conference for 2013, though Spear pulled together a surprisingly effective independent slate. He said Idaho is committed to independence until the Vandals find a conference home.
Consistency has been the difficult thing, Akey said. Its going to continue to be a challenge with the independent status until a league gets found.
Spear, a former professional basketball player, is deeply passionate about Idahos success.
The opportunities at the University far outweigh the challenges, Spear said. Its a great opportunity for someone to come in here, make a different and turn a program around.
The pressure is also on Spear. He needs to define a clear path forward, set realistic goals and bring a fractured fan base together. He gets one more chance to fix the football program.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444