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LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — If there is one piece of advice for college football coaches, it is: You can never look back.
Jason Gesser is realizing that more than ever this week.
Gesser is in his first season as the University of Wyoming’s quarterbacks coach. At this time last year, he was the running backs coach at Idaho. Later, he became interim coach for the final few games of the season after coach Robb Akey was fired.
Nearly a year ago, Gesser was preparing his Idaho guys to play UW in late September. Now he is getting UW’s offense ready to play Idaho in the Cowboys’ home opener at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Gesser was an All-America quarterback at Washington State, about 10 miles from the Idaho campus. He spent two seasons at Idaho, but he said he gained about 10 years of coaching experience while there.
After last season, in which the Vandals went 2-10, he interviewed for the full-time job. Idaho went with Paul Petrino instead, but Gesser was not bitter. In fact, he was the exact opposite.
“You have no idea how much more grateful I am to be here,” he said. “The guys that are here, the program that is here, the coaches and the staff that are here. I don’t ever for one second wonder what could have been at that place.
“I am focused on the now. Winning now and what we have going here. I know it’s special. Not just this season, but seasons to come.”
Don’t misinterpret Gesser’s words: His time at Idaho wasn’t bad, though it wasn’t easy. The team was 4-20. There were disciplinary issues among the players, and the anticipated demise of the Western Athletic Conference didn’t help generate interest in the program.
Idaho is a Football Bowl Subdivision Independent this season. It joins the Sun Belt Conference for the second time next year.
Gesser tells the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that he gets close to the players he coaches. That makes Saturday’s game hard: He knows a lot of them on the Idaho side.
Does that give UW an edge, having a coach who is familiar with some of Idaho’s personnel? Maybe. But that is being downplayed by fifth-year coach Dave Christensen.
“I don’t know if it will be the keys to the vault or anything. But he can give us a rundown of who’s is who,” he said.
For instance, when he was the interim coach, Gesser considered pulling the redshirt off freshman quarterback Chad Chalich. He felt Chalich gave the team the best chance to win.
But Gesser didn’t do that because it wouldn’t have been fair for Chalich to use a full year of eligibility on a handful of games. The quarterback completed 70 percent of his passes in the Vandals’ season-opening 40-6 loss at North Texas last week.
Gesser coached senior running back James Baker. He ran for 75 yards on 10 carries against UW last season in Moscow, Idaho, a game Wyoming won 40-37 in overtime.
Senior receiver Najee Lovett caught eight passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys in 2012. Senior defensive tackle QuayShawne Buckley had two sacks, and sophomore cornerback Solomon Dixon and junior safety Bradley Njoku are two of the Vandals’ better secondary players.
Gesser expects Dixon to defend UW’s top receiver, senior Robert Herron.
It is not uncommon for coaches to face their former schools, but it has happened at UW quite a bit in recent years.
Christensen was an assistant at Toledo from 1992-2000. UW won 20-15 at Toledo in 2010 and lost at home 34-31 last season.
Former offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon was the head coach at Bowling Green from 2003-08. In his first season at UW in 2011, the Cowboys went to Bowling Green and won 28-27.
Gesser is going through this for the first time and is less than a year removed from Idaho.
But old or new, the approach is the same.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t mean anything to me,” Gesser said. “You want them to succeed, but not against us.”
He may have moments this week, and on Saturday, when he looks back at his time in Idaho. But for the most part, he has taken that advice to heart.