By Brian Murphy
Updated post with President Nellis' statement
Idaho President Duane Nellis issued the following statement to the Idaho Statesman when asked about the firing of football coach Robb Akey:
"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. 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.
"I am grateful for Coach Robb Akey’s service and the heartfelt enthusiasm he shared with his players and our fans. The impact he made on his players and the great moments we shared will not be forgotten as we begin a new chapter in the long tradition of Vandal athletics.
"We have an excellent group of coaches and staff who support our Vandal athletic programs. I am confident that through this time of transition they will seek what is best for the long-term success of our student athletes and our teams.
"I ask all Vandal fans to rally now in support of our interim head Football Coach Jason Gesser and the Vandal football team. As you know the Vandal football team has four more games, including two home games left this season. It is never easy to take over a position in the middle of the season, but Coach Gesser knows he has my full support and the support of the entire Vandal family."
Spear: 'We'll hire the right person'
Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear said he reached his decision to fire football coach Robb Akey shortly after the Vandals' 70-28 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Spear called Idaho President Duane Nellis and "we made that decision," he said Monday.
Idaho coaches were supposed to have Sunday off to spend time with their families. Idaho has a bye week this week. But now-interim coach Jason Gesser said he got a text message at 4:30 a.m. alerting him to a staff meeting at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Akey informed the staff that he had been fired. Spear met with the remaining staff members as a group and then individually Sunday.
"I've been evaluating this the entire season. It's all about performance on the football field. And in our last 20 games we've lost 17 of those games," Spear said. "Coach Akey has done a lot of nice things here, but at the end of the day his record was 20-50."
Spear said he was hopeful that the staff changes Akey made in the offseason would help turn the Vandals around. Idaho went 2-10 last year and is 1-7 this season.
"It became apparent that the direction of the program was not going in the right place," Spear said.
By firing Akey now instead of waiting until the end of the season, Spear said he is giving the current staff an opportunity to turn things around and get a jump on the coaching search.
"I told all the coaches yesterday that I have great respect for them. This is an opportunity for them,"" Spear said. "I have been asked, 'Why make the change now?' I want to give this staff the opportunity to see what they can do with this football program."
Spear said Gesser is a candidate for the job. Gesser said he wants the position full-time.
"I want to become the head coach. That's the goal that I do have. So it's something that I get a chance at now. I'm very grateful for that," said Gesser, who is 33 and in his second season as a college coach and first as a coordinator.
Spear outlined what he is looking for in the Vandals' next head coach — somebody from a successful program, somebody that understands the Northwest and can recruit the Northwest, someone who recruits high-character kids and someone who runs a disciplined program.
Spear said it does not necessarily have to be a current or a former head coach. He said he has a list of names already.
"I think the opportunities at the University of Idaho far outweigh the challenges," Spear said. "There's a great opportunity to come in here, make a difference and turn a program around."