New Coach, New Swagger
Air Force alum brings NFL knowledge to Colorado Springs
Sept. 13, 2007
By Carter Blackburn
Special to CSTV.com
Carter Blackburn covers various sports for CSTV and writes frequently for CSTV.com.
The last two men to lead the Air Force football program combined for 337 wins in their coaching careers. Fisher DeBerry earned all 169 of his career wins in 23 years at the Academy. Ken Hatfield won the bulk of his at Clemson,
Even the guy who won just three games in 1978 didn't fair too bad in the coaching profession. Bill Parcells won two Super Bowls after leaving the Academy.
But for the first time in the 53-year history of Air Force football, an Academy alum is in charge this fall. Troy Calhoun, a 1989 Air Force graduate, gave up his role as offensive coordinator for the NFL's Houston Texans to return to Colorado Springs for his first head-coaching job.
"What's great about Troy is, he's one of them; one of us," former Falcon All-American and Calhoun teammate Scott Thomas says. "They understand what these kids' lives are like, but they understand when you're whining, too."
A typical day for an Air Force football player can begin well before daybreak and not turn to football for 12 hours. Between classes and military officer training, football can be as much a release for the Academy player as a focal point.
"You want to make sure you're turning out the country's finest leaders," Calhoun said. "Yet at the same time, when you reach deep down inside their souls, they're great competitors. When we go out and play Saturday afternoons they have one purpose. That's blow some snot bubbles, to play extremely well and to win on those days."
That is exactly what the Falcons did Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City. Leading 20-12 in the waning seconds, the Falcon defense twice stopped Utah at the goal line, giving Air Force a 2-0 start to the year and a road win in the Mountain West Conference opener. After dropping six of their last seven games a season ago, there is a decidedly different attitude around Air Force heading in to Thursday night's matchup with TCU.
The Horned Frogs have a tough turnaround. Ranked No. 19 in the nation, TCU seemed to be on the verge of a major upset Saturday at Texas, leading the Longhorns 10-0 at the half. But a 34-3 Texas onslaught in the second half erased any upset hopes for the Frogs. A bruised TCU team now plays just five days later against the Falcons.
It wasn't so much the defense that let TCU down as their offense, which managed just 17 yards in the third quarter against the Horns. But All-American Tommy Blake and a stellar Horned Frog defense will see a slightly different look than they are used to from Air Force.
Calhoun ran the option as an Air Force quarterback like everyone has since Ben Martin led the Academy football program for 20 years. But with an NFL background under Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak, Calhoun is known to have a deep offensive mind. Falcon senior quarterback Shaun Carney will still run the option and the Falcons still rely on misdirection, but they are running some Urban Meyer spread option and some Kubiak-like 4-wide, shotgun formations.
"He's a guy who really understands where we've been and where we have to go," Carney said. "His coaching experience in the NFL and other big time colleges has really helped develop us."
The immediate goal for Air Force is to end a disappointing run of three straight losing seasons. But Calhoun knows the Falcons are capable of more. His freshman season in 1985, Scott Thomas led Air Force to a Top 5 finish in a 12-1 season highlighted by wins over Texas and Notre Dame.
"We had a lot of fun," Thomas said. "But we had a little bit of a swagger. It was like, `we're going to beat you.' It was not a surprise when we did."
Two games into Calhoun's Air Force coaching career, the signs of that swagger appear to be returning.