If you polled Washington State football fans on their all-time favorite Cougar, the list would be slim before you got to Jason Gesser, who played the game with daring, chutzpah and, most of all, courage.
It was Gesser, who, two weeks after sustaining a high-ankle sprain in the Apple Cup of 2002, strapped the team on his back, leading it to a rousing victory at UCLA and a Rose Bowl berth.
He was about as mobile as a goal post that day yet found a way, thus ensuring that in a crowd of Cougars, he’ll never have to buy himself another drink.
He’s about to test that theory, because WSU has added him to its radio broadcast booth.
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Gesser replaces Shawn McWashington, himself part of the iconic Fab Five receivers from the breakthrough 1997 Rose Bowl team. But you know, when a school has so many Rose Bowl heroes to choose from …
These things are never easy. McWashington was lifted by IMG College, the broadcast marketing people, after a routine assessment of the production. The move was OK’d by athletic director Bill Moos, who says, “The intent is very good. We’re just not quite polished.”
McWashington came aboard when Mike Leach arrived in 2012, and he wasn’t dealt a great hand. The Cougars were rearranging all the furniture, moving longtime play-by-play man Bob Robertson off that assignment (while still in the booth) and switching Bud Nameck from the sideline to Robertson’s mike.
“They dissect it,” Moos said of the IMG review. “We didn’t get great marks.”
McWashington wonders why IMG’s “head office” gave him solid approval in the past, but adds, “I’m not upset. I’m not mad at anybody.”
“This is certainly not a slam in any way on Shawn,” Moos says, adding he wants to find work outside the broadcasting function for both Gesser and McWashington.
When the booth was rejiggered two years ago, Moos says he thought of Gesser. But at the time, the ex-quarterback was hip-deep as an assistant for Robb Akey at Idaho.
Late that season, Akey got cashiered and Gesser was named interim coach, to go with his duties as quarterback coach, coordinator and chief of damage control.
“Anything and everything you can possibly think of to go wrong went wrong,” Gesser says. “Trying to get the team to remain a team, having to kick guys off for failing a (drug) test, violating team rules.”
Idaho cleaned house, including Gesser, and he landed at Wyoming under Dave Christensen. The Cowboys scored 31 points a game last fall, but Christensen and Co. got canned. Fortuitously, Gesser’s wife Kali had stayed behind in Pullman with their three kids, and Gesser had a place to come home to.
He’s thus been around WSU practices and some other football functions, and Moos likes that proximity.
“He has great name recognition,” Moos points out, and Gesser had four years’ TV experience with Fox Sports Northwest.
Nowhere in Gesser’s Idaho or Wyoming bio is the FSN work, and if McWashington was imperfect doing WSU, so was Gesser back then, more bubbly than analytical. He was stretched thin, working as head coach at Eastside Catholic, taking late flights Friday nights or driving several hours for Saturday broadcasts.
We can only guess at what IMG wants, but this ought to be the standard: The broadcast can be crimson-colored, but also listenable for the neutral fan. Believe it or not, they’re out there.
“It’ll have that favor toward Washington State,” said Gesser, “but at the same time, I’m going to call things like I see it.”
The Cougars might reasonably wonder whether coaching is out of Gesser’s blood. He once said his goal is to be head coach of his alma mater.
“It’s not a great profession if you have three kids,” said Gesser, also named by Moos this week an assistant director of development. “I’m always going to be a coach at heart, and I can never deny that. I’m not going to say I’d never go back, but it would have to be the ideal, perfect situation.”
For a lot of WSU fans, he was that quarterback — ideal, perfect. He’s set himself a high bar for his latest gig.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281