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Trading Places 

A WSU favorite is back on the field, but not everyone is happy about Jason Gesser’s new position.

click to enlarge Gesser: 'I'm still a Cougar at heart.'
  • Gesser: 'I'm still a Cougar at heart.'

Jason Gesser has always looked like he belongs on a college football field, but these days he has a whistle around his neck, not shoulder pads. And the lettering on his shirt spells “Vandals,” not “Cougars.”

At 32, the former WSU quarterback, who led the team to the 2002 Rose Bowl, looks younger than many of the players he’s now helping to coach at the University of Idaho. But he’s 10 years removed from his last college game and eight miles east of the campus where he set career passing records.

Still, he might be the best quarterback on the Idaho practice field.

“I don’t know about that,” he says, “Mentally I think I probably could, but if I physically go out there and do it, I don’t know. I’ll challenge those guys every day, though.” He chuckles, “I’ll act like I can.”

This attitude is one of the things that prompted Idaho Vandals coach Robb Akey to add Gesser to his Idaho staff as a running backs coach this year.

“His competitiveness is a great thing,” says Akey, who was an assistant coach on the WSU team that went to the Rose Bowl. “If a portion of that rubs off on our guys and our team, that helps us tremendously.”

Akey says he did not hesitate to put a quarterback in charge of his running backs. He says Gesser’s resume since leaving WSU makes him qualified for the job.

“He’s been in professional football, he’s coached as an assistant and as a head coach. He’s been at the high school level, which can be a little more difficult in some areas, but the thing is, he can teach.”

It’s that high school coaching experience (two seasons running the offense at Bellevue’s Eastside Catholic) that Gesser says qualifies him to coach any position on that side of the ball.

“When you’re an offensive coordinator, you’re teaching everything — especially at the high school level,” Gesser says. Even still, he admits that one of his goals is to get each of his Vandal running backs to think more like a quarterback. “When you’re a quarterback, you have to make a lot of reads. A lot of pre-snap reads and post-snap and snap-of-the-ball reads.”

Gesser took some heat online from the Cougar Nation in July, when he left what he calls an entry-level position at his alma mater to take the Idaho job.

“[I] was just an assistant in an office. I would have been able to go out on the practice field and watch, [but] I wouldn’t have been a full-time coach.”

Trading that for a chance to recruit and to coach his own players, he says, was a no-brainer. “Taking this job over that job hopefully fast-forwarded my career a couple of years.”

But Gesser wants WSU fans to know that his heritage will go with him. “I’m still a Cougar at heart,” he promises, “I’m going to do everything I can to help Washington State.”

But the rest may take some getting used to: “I’m working here, and I’m a Vandal through and through right now.”

Find more sports stories from Rick Lukens at

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