A CAREER THAT BEGAN IN 2006 ENDED SUNDAY AS UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO head coach Robb Akey was relieved of coaching duties for the remainder of the season. Despite leading Idaho to a thrilling victory in the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl, Idaho (1-7) struggled for victories since, punctuated by Saturday's 70-28 throttling at Louisiana Tech. Offensive coordinator Jason Gesser was named interim head coach.
In an official press release from the University of Idaho Sunday afternoon, the Idaho Athletics Department announced head coach Robb Akey was relieved of duties after almost six seasons at the helm of the Vandal football team.
The Akey era was one that included moments of great excitement, as well as moments of great disappointment.
In almost six full seasons as head coach, Akey compiled an overall record of 20-50 and a Western Athletic Conference (WAC) record of 10-32. Although the team struggled for wins during much of his tenure, Akey also led Idaho to just its second bowl win ever - the thrilling, come-from-behind 2009 Humanitarian Bowl victory. But since that high-water mark Idaho has struggled, and through eight games this season the Vandals are just 1-7 (1-2 WAC), having given up 63 points or more in three blowout losses. In Akey’s six seasons in Moscow, his teams had a winning record in only one season, 2009, when the Vandals finished the year with an overall record of 8-5 (4-4 in the WAC).
Akey’s first head coaching job included a salary of $240,000 per year and a unique $1 million buy-out clause if Akey left Idaho before January of 2009. After the Vandals won the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl, Akey was awarded a new contract, which paid him an annual salary of $375,796.
When Idaho hired Robb Akey in December of 2006, the Vandals were desperately looking for stability in a head football coach. Prior to Akey, former head coach Dennis Erickson (in his second stint at Idaho) left the Vandals after only 10 months in Moscow to take over at Arizona State after compiling a 4-8 record at Idaho. Prior to that, Erickson had been brought in to replace Nick Holt, who left Idaho for USC after only 26 months at the helm and compiling an overall record of 5-18 in two seasons. Prior to Holt, Tom Cable (11-35, 8-16) spent four years in Moscow (2000-2003) when the Big West dropped football and Idaho competed in the far-flung Sun Belt Conference.
To call it a tumultuous period would be putting it mildly. But when Idaho Athletics Director Rob Spear announced the hiring of Robb Akey, it was the fourth head football coach Idaho had introduced in a span of just 37 months.
What Robb Akey brought with his arrival was a breath of fresh air and a mountain of enthusiasm to a program in desperate need of it at the time. When Coach Akey moved into his new office on the scenic Idaho campus, the longest employment period for a Vandal head football coach was six seasons, a record held by John L. Smith who left Idaho 13 years earlier. Not one head football coach had compiled a career winning record at Idaho since 1999, when Chris Tormey left with a 33-23 record in five seasons, including Idaho's first bowl victory.
Coach Akey's first season in 2007 was rough as the player personnel turnover during the off-season was significant. The Vandals finished 1-11 and 0-8 in the WAC that year, but Akey claimed that a five-year rebuilding effort was required, and Vandal fans and alumni seemed patient. Their patience remained intact after the 2008 season and a record of 2-10 and 1-7 in the WAC.
Then came what appeared to be a turning point with the success of the 2009 season. The Vandals broke many records in 2009 with a record of 8-5 and 4-4 in the WAC. At the mid-way point in the season, the Vandals were entering uncharted territory with six Division I wins in a single season and later seven wins, which led to an appearance in the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl when Idaho defeated Bowling Green, 43-42 in a thrilling overtime victory. That bowl win was the high point of the Akey era at Idaho and was punctuated with his famous quote during halftime when he ended an interview on ESPN with: "Watch the second half, you’re gonna love it!"
A few months after their first winning season in 10 years and the school's second all-time bowl win, the Idaho administration awarded Robb Akey a new five-year contract in June of 2010.
The Vandals came within seconds of being bowl eligible again in 2010 in a loss at Fresno State, but ended the season with a record of 6-7 overall and 3-5 in WAC competition.
The disappointment of 2010 bled over to 2011, as the Vandals fell to a record of 2-10 and 1-6 in the WAC. The frustration of that season led to Idaho completely overhauling the offensive coaching staff, including elevating Jason Gesser to offensive coordinator while bringing in new coaches for the offensive line, wide receivers, and running backs.
With stability on the defensive side of the ball and veteran position coaches on the offensive side going into this season, there was a glimmer of optimism that the offensive issues that plagued the team in 2011 would be corrected in 2012. That of course never materialized as Idaho got off to a frustrating loss to Eastern Washington to start the season and never recovered. Through the first eight games of the season, the Vandals are just 1-7 overall, including three blowout losses in which Idaho's veteran defense has given up 63 points or more, culminating with Saturday's 70-28 blowout loss at Louisiana Tech.
The loss Saturday proved to be the breaking point. With an FBS independent schedule set for 2013 as University of Idaho continues to navigate the ever-changing conference realignment waters, and with mounting pressure to produce more wins on the football field sooner rather than later, Idaho's administration made the decision to go in another direction with its head coach and start its search for a replacement immediately.
Four games remain on the 2012 schedule as the Vandals head into a much needed bye this week. Offensive coordinator Jason Gesser has been named as the interim head coach and will prepare the Vandals for a home game against San Jose State in the Kibbie Dome on November 3rd. After that, remaining games include a road trip to Brigham Young on November 10th and the final home game of the season, which is Senior Day, against the University of Texas - San Antonio on November 17th.
Idaho completes its season in the finale at Utah State on November 24th.