Jason Gesser still bleeds crimson, despite spurning WSU for Idaho job

Jul 10, 2011, 8:56 AM | Updated: 11:24 pm

By Jim Moore

If you’ve been keeping up with Jason Gesser lately and know where he
ended up, you must be pretty good at that Mariner cap game that they play
on the video board at Safeco Field.

When Gesser’s version of the game began, he was coaching at Eastside
Catholic High School. Then he turned up at Washington State, his alma
mater. But wait a minute, no he didn’t – Gesser will in fact show up in the
Palouse this summer, just not in Pullman.

Quarterback Jason Gesser helped the Cougars reach the Rose Bowl following the 2002 season. (AP Photo)

A week or so after he took a quality control job with the Cougar
football team, he took an eight-mile detour to Moscow to become running
backs coach on Robb Akey’s staff at Idaho.

To put a perfect capper on this confusing scenario, the Vandals’
running backs job opened when Jeremy Thielbahr, a Coug himself, left to
take Gesser’s old job as head coach at Eastside Catholic.

Before he appeared on the Kevin Calabro
on Friday, I met with Gesser at Panera Bread in the Renton
Landing that morning. He requested the interview because he was
concerned about the feeling of Cougar fans. He doesn’t want them to think
he ditched WSU for Idaho.

He basically just wanted to explain himself, and I jumped at the
opportunity because he’s Jason Gesser, my all-time favorite Coug. Thirty-
six years of watching Cougar football and this guy’s No. 1 in my book. He
was a winner, a kid who left it all on the field, a quarterback who got
everything from his ability, and he took us to ANOTHER Rose Bowl in 2003.

Most Coug fans would have been fine with one trip to Pasadena in our
lifetimes, and Ryan Leaf helped give us that in ’98, but Gesser brought us
the second one five years later. And to this day, I still think we might have
beaten Oklahoma if he’d had two healthy legs instead of one, though this is
clearly crimson-clouded thinking because the Sooners were pretty damn

The other thing I love about Gesser is how much Washington State
means to him. If you’ve never seen him in Jeff McQuarrie’s brilliant
documentary, “Legends of the Palouse,” check it out sometime. Gesser
gushes about WSU, and it literally brings tears to my eyes – he says that he
wouldn’t be the person he is today if he hadn’t gone to Washington State.

If I’m a Husky, I’m probably sticking my finger down my throat, but
then again, if I’m a Husky, I’m probably not reading this column. If I’m a
Coug, and I think I am, I know what Gesser means, though I still think he’d
probably be OK as a human being and a budding Division I football coach if
he’d gone to school somewhere else, but I’m certainly not going to tell him

“I care about Cougar Nation and what they think,” Gesser said.
“Washington State’s my life. I don’t want them to think I’m switching one for
the other.”

His comments came from his heart, but I had to bust his chops a little
bit anyway. When he took the job in Pullman, he was quoted as saying: “The
opportunity for me to get back to Washington State is a dream come true.”

Then just a week or two later, after he took the Idaho job, he said: “It
really is a dream come true working for a guy (Akey) like that.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m still waiting for one dream to come
true, and Gesser has had two come true in the span of two weeks. If he
weren’t my all-time favorite Coug, I would have been harder on him, but
since he is, I wasn’t.

Gesser explained that he would have been associated with the Cougar
football team but would not have been on the sideline. He would only get
paid around $12,000 a year. His coaching job at Idaho will pay him much
more than that, and more importantly, he’ll get better hands-on experience
that will make him better equipped to someday be a head coach.

Washington State coach Paul Wulff had no hard feelings, telling Gesser
he’d be stupid if he didn’t take the Idaho job. WSU athletic director Bill
Moos said the same thing, telling him: “One day you’re going to be at
Washington State, but today is not that day. Build up your resume, and one
day we’ll bring you back home.”

Akey, Washington State’s former defensive coordinator, is delighted to
have Gesser joining his staff.

“He’s got great leadership ability,” said Idaho’s head man. “He’s one of
the greatest competitors I’ve ever seen. If even a little bit of that rubs off on
our players, it will go a long way.”

Gesser knows there are questions out there, such as: “Hey wait a
minute, weren’t you a quarterback; what would you know about coaching
running backs?”

But Gesser has coached all of the positions the last five years as a
high-school coach, and he notes that the running backs make the same
reads as the quarterbacks.

He’s looking forward to recruiting the Northwest and his home state of
Hawaii. With his personality and background, Gesser should be a hell of a
closer, sealing deals for the Vandals.

Asked what he’ll tell a recruit if the high schooler is choosing between
Washington State and Idaho, Gesser said: “I’m an Idaho Vandal now. He’s
gotta go to Idaho. And I’ll tell ya right now, we’ll win. I want to be one of
the top recruiters in the game.”

It’s been an emotionally taxing two months for Gesser, who said he
“cried like a little girl” when he told his Eastside Catholic players that he
was leaving. Then he had several sleepless nights when he made his
decision to leave Washington State. Now he’s a week from leaving his wife
and two young children in Renton and heading to the Palouse. His wife has
a good job and won’t join Gesser in Moscow until next summer. He doesn’t
plan to live in Pullman and commute.

“That would be a little too weird,” Gesser said.

But he will still be involved with the Washington State football team
and continue to mentor quarterback Jeff Tuel. He thinks the Cougs can go
5-0 to start the season and hopes they can win one or two the rest of the
way to make it to a bowl game.

Now 32, Gesser thinks he’ll be ready to become a Division I head coach
by the time he’s 38 or 40. In his ideal world, it will happen with the Cougs.
And yes, that too, would be a dream come true.

You can follow Jason Gesser @jasongesser

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