GETTING GESSER FROM HERE TO THERE

JASON GESSER

JASON GESSER, THE WINNINGEST quarterback in Washington State history, moonlights on weekends as a football analyst for Fox Sports Northwest. Recently he mentioned on air that his career goal is to become head coach of the Cougars by age 45. He's 28 now. With 17 years to get from here to there, we asked some insightful folks what career advice they'd offer Gesser to help him realize the dream.

Gesser's resume is pointing in the right direction.

He's been a backup quarterback with the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League for the last two seasons and before that spent a year each with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders and NFL's Tennessee Titans.

It's how he spends his off-seasons, though, that speaks volumes. Last year he was the quarterbacks coach at Federal Way High. And this season he's the offensive coordinator at unbeaten Franklin Pierce High, where he introduced a spread offense that is averaging 48 points per game.

"I've always been a student of the game and really have been preparing myself to be a coach for the last 10 years," Gesser said. "I keep notebooks of ideas and philosophies from people I've learned from. I have a Mike Price notebook. I have a Mike Heimerdinger (former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, now Broncos assistant head coach) and Steve McNair notebook. And Danny White has been a huge influence."


GESSER AND PRICE, 2002

White, a College Hall of Fame quarterback at Arizona State under Frank Kush and then a Pro Bowler with Dallas under Tom Landry, is Gesser's coach at Utah and an AFL coaching icon.

"I have a passion for the game of football. I know I will be a better coach than I was a player," Gesser said.

So where does he go from here? We went after some notable talent to get the answer.

In all, they offer a roadmap with a variety of options. It will no doubt take some luck along the way, but all agreed Gesser's dream is reachable. Here's exactly what they had to say ...


Bill Moos, former Oregon and Montana athletic director:
"Jason has a fabulous personality, a tremendous spirit and makes a great first impression. He's got the work ethic and talent, and he's a diehard Cougar. What he's got to do now is catch on with a college program and start building his experience. What he's doing right now is super and may even allow him to bypass the graduate assistant stage and become an assistant in the Big Sky Conference or something along those lines. Once he's in, I think he could move fast. He'd probably make a great recruiter."


WALDEN defeats USC, 1986

Jim Walden, former WSU and Iowa State head coach:
"High school coaching can maybe slow you down at the start but the experience is invaluable. Becoming a graduate assistant, working for nothing and doing all the grunt work, gets you on your way faster because you've got your foot in the door of college ball and you have nine other coaches on staff who are seeing how good you are. Once he gets to the college level, he needs to declare what he wants to do -– I presume that would be quarterbacks coach -– but not restrict himself to just that. If there's a chance along the line to coach the secondary or receivers, do it. The more diverse you are, the better you look as a head coaching candidate. He also shouldn't be afraid to coach at the Division II level –- smaller college jobs are great places to get started as a full-time assistant."

Keith Jackson, the retired Voice of College Football:
"I'd tell him to remember the words of (coaching pioneer) Amos Alonzo Stagg: Big, fast people beat little, fast people. It all comes down to recruiting. Learning how to shake hands and kiss up are critical to becoming a successful college coach."

Robb Akey, Idaho head coach and former WSU d-coordinator:
"He's off to a great start. Now he needs to get into college coaching as soon as he can -– get his feet wet as a graduate assistant and then move up. I think he'd be fantastic. He's a competitor, a winner and he relates well with people. He's a guy I hope I get the opportunity to hire someday."

Glenn Osterhaut, business executive and member of WSU Board of Trustees:
"Running a major college football program is big business. It's about leading people, managing resources, setting priorities, communicating effectively and surrounding yourself with the best talent you can find. If I were Jason, I'd get a master's degree in business at a school that plays Division I football so I could do it while serving as a graduate assistant."

Mike Price, UTEP head coach, former WSU head coach:
"Jason Gesser Head Coach of the Cougs! That has a special ring to it. I'm pleased that the Cougars mean that much to Jason, for this to be one of his life goals."


JIM SWEENEY, head man 1968-75.

Jim Sweeney, former WSU, Fresno State and Montana State head coach:
"He'd be better off becoming a dentist than a coach. But if he wants it, he pretty much has to become a graduate assistant. Look at Lane Kiffen (Raiders coach) and Jeff Tedford (Cal coach). They were graduate assistants we had at Fresno State. They wouldn't have risen nearly as fast as they did if they hadn't been graduate assistants. If I were a head coach, I'd hire Jason. He'd bring a lot of passing knowledge to the game. I'd think a coach who is changing his offense, going to the spread, would love to have a guy like Gesser."

Jim Moore, Seattle P-I sports columnist:
"Hey, Jason, forget age 45, how about 28? The Cougs need you now. And don't worry about your lack of experience; it didn't stop FSN from hiring you. But if you insist on waiting 18 years, please find some newborn, groom him to be a kicker, preferably one that actually puts the ball through the uprights, and make him a part of your recruiting class in 2025. Then hope to hell that everyone in that class has the guts you have. Then find a rugby punter. And one last thing Jason: you need to hope the Cougs go 0-12 in 2024 and they finally realize they just might have to dismiss 85-year-old Bill Doba."

John Ralston, College Hall of Fame coach at Stanford, former NFL head coach:
"The first thing he needs to do is set some goals with specifics time lines. For example, he's a high school assistant, so now maybe he becomes a high school head coach for two to three years. That head coaching experience is a real mirror into who you are and will serve him well throughout his career. Do that and then break into the college ranks. If he can get a graduate assistant position right now -– one where the head coach truly involves GAs in the process, then that could be as valuable as being a high school head coach. Until he lands that first college position, he should attend every coaching clinic and camp that he can so head coaches know he's serious about this profession."

Dick Baird, former UW assistant, former JC and prep coach, ex-WSU grad assistant and team captain:
"I recruited Jason when I was at Washington. I think the world of him. My advice is that he's got to get the playing bug out of his system. Arena ball allows him to coach high school ball but if he's really serious he should try to get on, as an assistant or graduate assistant, with a major program that has a great offensive coordinator and/or an exciting offense. Like Oregon. That would be the way to go. If he feels like he needs to keep playing for awhile, maybe he could get a graduate assistant job that lets him play Arena ball. Another possibility would be to become a player-coach in the Arena League. He could also approach Mike Holmgren about an internship."

ALONG WITH JACK THOMPSON and Rueben Mayes, Gesser ranks among the most beloved WSU gridders of the modern era. Is he really prepared to exchange that elite place in the eyes of the crimson faithful for the inevitable second-guessing and catcalls that start once a head coach runs into a two- or three-game losing streak?

"I never think about losing, so that's not something I've considered," Gesser said. "Everyone takes their lumps. Things happen and people boo. That's part of the game.

"At the end of the day, it's not what people think. It's all about consistency -- surrounding yourself with great coaches and working hard year in and year out. You do that and you'll have a pretty good thing going."


GESSER CLENCHES ROSE AFTER COUGS CLINCH TRIP TO PASADENA WITH VICTORY OVER UCLA, 2002.

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