PULLMAN – Robb Akey watches a lot of football on television these days, so it’s safe to assume he had a seat in front of one for the Idaho-Washington State game Saturday night.
“For the first time since I was in the fourth grade, I haven’t had my own team, either playing for or coaching for,” Akey said last week. “That’s been different.”
Akey has more shared history with the two schools, Idaho and WSU, than probably any person on the planet. He was an assistant coach at WSU for eight years (1999-2006) before becoming head coach with the Vandals in 2007. He was fired last year before season’s end with a 20-50 record.
He trolled the job market after last season but didn’t find a match, which gave him a new perspective at home — spending more time with wife Molly and his high-school-age sons Jack and Daniel.
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“Being a dad,” said Akey.
That took him to AAU basketball tournaments far and wide last summer, and more recently, to Jack’s Moscow High football games. In an ironic twist Friday night, during Pullman High’s 42-40 victory over Moscow, Jack Akey ran in an interception for a touchdown, the pass thrown by Pullman sophomore Mason Petrino, son of his successor at Idaho, Paul Petrino.
“I miss the competitiveness of it (coaching),” Akey said, “but I’ve been able to gain a lot with my family.”
Akey says he wants to be a head coach again, but realizes he might have to return as an assistant first. He has also watched NFL games and considers that an option.
Akey, 47, took Idaho to its first bowl game in 11 years in 2009, and the Vandals capped a glorious season with a late two-point conversion to beat Bowling Green, 43-42, in the Humanitarian Bowl. But they narrowly missed repeating the postseason in 2010, going 6-7. Then Idaho went 2-10 in 2011 and started 0-5 in 2012 and Akey was dismissed late in the season.
“We were so close the year after the bowl,” Akey lamented, referring to 36-34 and 23-20 defeats against Colorado State and Fresno State, respectively. “That would have been back-to-back winning seasons, and that hadn’t happened in forever (at Idaho ).”
The Vandals have struggled with the issue of conference affiliation, dabbling in the Sun Belt (2001-04), then the WAC and this year, as an independent, before returning to the Sun Belt in 2014.
“It’s been real hard for the university,” Akey said. “As a guy from across the street (when he was at WSU), it looked to me like having to play in the Sun Belt had an effect on them. You’ve gotta recruit West Coast guys — that’s where you’re from — and recruiting against West Coast programs, those kids are not gonna get to play too many games on this side of the country.
“I felt we could recruit to the WAC. As that started to change, it made it awful hard.”
The enthusiastic Akey had one word to describe both WSU’s new facilities and its 10-7 upset of USC earlier this month: “Awesome.”
He says he watches ESPN’s College GameDay and just about any football game that happens to be on TV. So he’s still a student of the game?
“It’s home-school right now,” Akey said with a laugh.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org