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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Idaho starts the coaching carousel

Obscured by attention given to bigger games involving good teams with bright futures, the first mid-season coaching change of 2012 took place October 21, with Idaho firing Robb Akey after a 70-28 loss to Louisiana Tech, moving the Vandals to a disappointing 1-7.  Was it the right decision?  I doubt that can be answered in the time I'm willing to spend on this, but despite his 20-50 career record, I think there's a case to be made that Akey was one of the best coaches in Idaho's underwhelming FBS tenure.  After a 3-21 start, Idaho went 8-5 in 2009, winning the 2nd bowl game in school history, and he followed that up with a 6-7 year in 2010.  Since Idaho moved to the highest level of football in 1996, they've engineered just 5 seasons with at least 6 wins, and Akey is responsible for 2 (Chris Tormey managed the other 3 against ridiculously easy schedules).  Sports Reference's Simple Rating System isn't a bad rough and dirty measure of team strength, and see how Akey compares with Idaho history:
Akey: -12.61
Previous 5 years: -15.22
Modern era (1996-): -12.01

Using those measures, Akey was better than his immediate predecessors and basically as good as the average Idaho coach since Idaho returned to FBS football.

Akey did improve Idaho's recruiting.  Per Rivals' recruiting rankings, in the 5 years prior to Akey's arrival, Idaho pulled in only 2 players ranked 3 stars or better. In Akey's 6 years, they've gotten 22.  Now, that's not to say that he's turned Idaho into a program with viable talent.  He hasn't, but he did improve the recruiting base.

Ironically, I think Akey's recruiting success is one reason for the timing of his firing.  Akey's recruiting is still better than what it used to be, but it is starting to stall.  Only 2 recruits are committed for 2013, and impact recruits are getting hard to come by again.  Perhaps the powers that be want to thank Akey for the good work he's done - and despite the 20-50 record, I think it's safe to say the work was comparatively good - and move on to someone who can do something with the talent onhand.  For now they turn to OC Jason Gesser, only 33 and still in his first year of collegiate coordinating.  He'll finish out the year while they search for a successor, as I doubt Gesser is the man for the job.  In fact, there's probably evidence that Akey's hiring of Gesser might have been responsible for his firing:  QB Dominique Blackman ranks in the bottom five in our QB EPA rankings, a whopping -60 points below average this season at the time of the firing.  

There's no doubt the next hire will be a key hire for Idaho, bigger than the Akey decision was in 2007.  Akey seemed to have considerable job security when the year began, so this seems a bold move for the Vandals.  There's talent onhand, but the momentum in Idaho seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse;  that is to say, though they're unlikely to miss Akey, the wrong hire could quickly send the program back to the Tom Cable era.  It's a bold move - the right hire could make Idaho a potential contender wherever they wind up, but the wrong one could really set this program back a decade.  With Idaho's football and even FBS status in jeopardy, it'll be interesting to see what kind of candidates decide to interview for this unenviable position.

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