The Vandal Atheltic Department
Sometimes you think things are tough around your house, then you look outside and your neighbor’s house is on fire. No matter how you feel about the problems facing Cougar football, they are like a couple burnt out lightbulbs compared to the structure fire down the road in Moscow. As you have probably heard by now, the Idaho Vandals have given Robb Akey his walking papers and have promoted Jason Gesser to interim head coach while they conduct their search for Akey’s successor. All this is happening as the Vandals prepare for their first season as a football independent in 2013, a status they hope to only maintain for a couple years as they search the ever changing conference landscape for a new home. Constantly looming over all of this is the very real possibility that the only viable option is for the Vandals to return to the ranks of the FCS and the Big Sky Conference they used to dominate. These are tough times to be a Vandal. As a true legend and icon of the Palouse I just cannot let Akey ride off into the sunset without adding a few thoughts of my own, after the jump…
To be perfectly honest, Robb Akey hasn’t accomplished too much as a coach since his days coaching the defensive line for the Cougs. Once he took over as coordinator in 2003 he had one good season with a Cougar D that was locked and loaded, then oversaw the complete collapse of that unit in the ensuing years. At Idaho he again managed one magical season with a mature group of players that had largely been recruited by a former coach, and once those players departed things went downhill in a hurry with no signs of turning around. A lot of this had to do with his loyalty to assistants that were simply not up to the task (sound familiar?), but Akey himself has never proven to have the coaching chops to excel at a level above position coach. Still, football will miss Akey, and for good reason. He was a ton of fun.
For all his shortcomings as a coach, Robb Akey is one of College Football’s great characters. First of all, he looks the part. He is a towering man with a handlebar mustache and a signature gruff voice that constantly spits out enough T-shirt worthy sayings to keep a silk screen shop working round the clock. ESPN loves him and he has garnered lots of attention over his career, whether it was his unbelievable vertical leap he displayed as a defensive coordinator for the Cougs, or naming his sons Jack and Daniel, or quipping into the camera at the half of the Humanitarian Bowl to “stay tuned”, “you’re gonna love it”, and sure enough his team delivered a thrilling finish. Akey was easy to like and the kind of coach most people really wanted to succeed. College football’s coaching elite is dominated by Urban Meyers, Chip Kelly’s, Nick Sabans and other robotic, no-personality tacticians who give interviews that nobody wants to hear and write books that only total football wonks and media sycophants would ever care to read. Robb Akey is not that guy.
With this week’s announcement a lot of people have been getting nostalgic about their favorite Robb Akey memories, and so what the hell, here is mine: In the 2008 season the Vandals were desperate for their first win over an FBS opponent in way too long and on Homecoming day against New Mexico State, Akey delivered. Amieable and I were there as the students rushed the field in jubilation, but my most memorable moment from that game came before it even started. This was pre-renovation, and the Kibbie was in pretty terrible shape. It had a video board about the size of my television that you couldn’t actually see. The Vandals took the field from a rusty garage door in the back corner of the Kibbie Dome and on this day that door rose about a foot and a half, then stopped. It was busted. You could see the cleats of the Vandal players, anxious to take the field, but the door wasn’t budging. Then beneath the door a pair of hands emerged and with great strain the door was raised manually by none other than coach Akey himself. He raised the door and held it in place as the team ran out onto the field, all the while the motor above the door smoked and shot sparks out, some of them cascading over Akeys shoulders. It was awesome. I was almost in tears. That one moment said everything about both the state of Idaho football, and the awesomeness of Robb Akey.
But with every ending there is a new beginning and at Idaho that new beginning involves another one of our favorite sons, Jason Gesser. Sure, Gesser is completely unqualified to be a head coach at the FBS level, and he is basically like one of those Japanese generals in WWII who has been given command of a rag tag army after all the other generals have committed Harakiri. His chances of success are somewhere between none and none. But hey, isn’t that what they call a no-lose situation? Good luck Jason, and Give ‘em Hell!
And thanks to Coach Akey. We all take football too seriously around here, but no matter what, you always made it fun. Now go get a TV gig. I guarantee we’ll all watch.