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30 minutes with Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh

May 25, 2013 Updated: May 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm
photo - Air Force Academy Athletic Director Dr. Hans Mueh poses next to a mural Monday, May 20, 2013, at the Academy's Athletic Hall of Fame. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Air Force Academy Athletic Director Dr. Hans Mueh poses next to a mural Monday, May 20, 2013, at the Academy's Athletic Hall of Fame. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Hans Mueh is not a typical college athletic director. He earned a doctorate in chemistry. He served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam. He did not apply for Air Force's AD job when it became available in early 2004.

He became Air Force's ninth AD anyway. He's served in the post since July 2004.

Question: The football team under Troy Calhoun has finished 13-13 in the past two seasons. This is after Calhoun finished 34-18 in his first four seasons. Are you concerned? Is the program stagnating?

Answer: No. (He laughs.) You're trying to put us in the same bucket with Michigan and Ohio State. We went to our sixth straight bowl game, and that's the first in the history of the academy, to go to six straight bowl games.

I think last season was a transition year. I think the coaches, if you pinned them down, they would have said they didn't have high expectations. We were the youngest team in the NCAA, and we pinned our hopes on (quarterback) Connor Dietz, and I love Connor to death, but I think that was putting a little too much on him. .

(Running back) Cody Getz had a great game against Michigan, but he got banged up. When did that happen? (Mueh is told Getz injured his ankle against Wyoming.) All of a sudden, Cody lost that step that was crucial to him, and we really didn't have the depth that you would like. I think the whole season was sort of a struggle because of that.

I truly feel that was a transition year. They were scrambling to make something happen, but they were more focused on the future. We have some great kids. We had a great spring. I watched a few of the practices. I was pretty impressed.

I think we're in a transition period. We start with a whole new batch this fall, and we have seven home games.

Q: Are you frustrated by the lack of support at home football games? (The Falcons averaged 32,014 fans at home games during 2012 season.)

A: You probably know that we're trying to do some things at Falcon Stadium to improve the fan experience. I have been at this business long enough to understand that in Colorado - look at the University of Colorado, look at CSU - there are so many options for people and there are so many ways to watch a football game these days, that it makes it very difficult to attract fans.

We want to enhance that fan experience. And we want to remodel it a little bit. We're talking about bringing the capacity down from 47,000 to 42,000 to make the tickets more valuable and to encourage the people to buy more season tickets. I would love to get into a routine where people were trying to scalp Air Force tickets.

It is a puzzle to me, that in a city of 600,000 you can't get - on a beautiful day even - a full house. Let alone the cold nights we had to play in last fall.

It's always a trade-off with the TV partners. I would love to have every game on Saturday at noon or 1, but there's no conference in the country that can pull that off. I think we're going to have a pretty good exposure season for our program. And I know that if you win, they'll come.

Q: What is the sensation for you of seeing a largely empty football stadium?

A: We were at least half full for all the games. You've probably seen me before games. I go down and scan the surroundings and sometimes you'll see me shake my head, wondering where the people are. I don't know how to answer that. I would love to have rabid fans like we see on the road, like at Tennessee and Oklahoma and Notre Dame. I would love for a situation where, no matter what the weather conditions are, they would come.

Q: You turn 70 in January. How much longer do you plan to serve as athletic director?

A: Here's the reality of it. My current contract is up in 2015, Aug. 1, 2015. My plan right now is this: I want to see some things going . with Falcon Stadium and renovations, I would love to start putting spade in the ground so to speak. I'd love to do the same thing with my soccer, lacrosse and baseball stadiums. I'd like to get that kick-started and say, 'OK, the company is running smoothly.'

I feel pretty good with my coaching staff right now. We have stability with people who are here and these are people who aren't necessarily tied to wins and losses, but tied to the kind of people they produce. That coaching piece is not one that keeps me awake.

I'll just fade out into the sunset. At that point, in 2015, I'll be 71. I certainly don't feel 69. To me, 69 is the new 50. I'm still pretty athletic, still holding my own in tennis and racquetball and golf.

My target is letting this contract run out and then fading away into the sunset.

Q: You were intrigued by the possibility of joining The Big East?

A: That's a good word for it. Yes, I was.

Q: Are you surprised by the renewed strength of The Mountain West, Air Force's home since 1999?

A: No, and I'll tell you why. Part of it and a big part of it is the leadership at the top. I'm a big fan of (commissioner) Craig Thompson. He and I are good friends. He has done a yeoman's job of keeping the conference steady and growing.

I like the schools that are in the conference. It's a very collegial group, very accommodating. We were intrigued by the Big East primarily because of Navy and the possibility that Army, Navy and Air Force could be in a conference together. That was the intriguing part. All three of us recognized that as a real plus. The only conference in America where that was possible was the Big East. I listened to their spiel, and we were intrigued. But we didn't have to rush to judgment. We had some time, and watching it from a distance and we kept watching. And then once the dominoes started to fall in the Big East, and it happened so rapidly. Syracuse and Pittsburgh left and then West Virginia.

Q: How many Air Force games do you attend each season?

A: You mean all sports? Oh, my God. Wrestling and gymnastics and swimming and water polo - all going at the same time. Pop in for half of this game. I go to all the basketball games, here. This last season, I didn't travel other than football because it just got overwhelming.

How many games? Hundreds. Easily over 100. I don't count. The ticket office sends me my bill.

Q: You buy tickets?

A: I do. Part of it is government regulation, part of it is I want to sit where I'm supposed to sit. To me, it's part of the job to buy tickets. Hockey, volleyball, basketball and football. The rest of them are free. I try to get to as many soccer games as possible.

I buy season tickets. Let me clarify a little bit of that. I am authorized a pass for a general admission ticket for the revenue sports. Technically, if Sally (his wife) wasn't there, I wouldn't have to buy a ticket. What I do is, I upgrade all of my tickets and I buy Sally's upscale tickets. At the end of the football season, I have traditionally given money to the Blue and Silver Club to cover my tickets. That way, Sally and I can sit together in good seats.

Q: Do you suffer from any bad dreams about losing hockey coach Frank Serratore?

A: No. no. (He laughs.) And the reason I say that is this: Frank likes it here. When I hired Frank, I had a feeling that this was more than hockey. This was about Frank having a family environment for himself and his four kids that would be a lifetime adventure for him.

It took him a while to get to the point, almost 10 years, to figure it out. To figure out the kind of kids he had to go after.

I'm not sure Frank wants to start all over again somewhere else. He's pretty happy. He was very disappointed at the end of this season. He had the team this year to go a little further. He wants to get it going again, right away.

So, no, I don't worry about that. If he ever leaves, I'll send him on his way with all our blessings and thank him for all the amazing times, but I don't see that happening.

Q: Is dismissing coaches the hardest part of your job?

A: It's not just coaches. It's any time you're dealing with people and tough calls with people. Hiring is a whole lot easier than firing.

It's hard for anybody. You tell me somebody who can hire and fire people without emotion and there's some leadership piece missing there.

Q: You and Fisher DeBerry were close friends before his retirement after the 2006 season. Has your friendship recovered from that difficult period?

A: No, to be honest with you. Not to the level that it was. Fisher and I are still cordial, but it's not like it was.

That hurts me. I'm the kind of guy who can separate friendship from job-related things, but in this case that was hard. Watching Fisher retire was the hardest thing I've done in my eight-plus years here. I told Fisher I would never fire him. He earned the right to call his own shots. He earned the right to say this is when he's going to retire.

Q: You are known for being frank and open. Where do those traits come from?

A: I think it probably started with my parents and maybe it's the German in me. Germans, they don't BS a lot. They just get to the point. My father and mother were the most honest people. You never really think about this when you're growing up, but I remember my dad agonizing over tax forms. I don't ever remember my dad telling a lie, ever. Don't ever remember my dad swearing. Don't remember my dad or mom talking about other people in one of those negative voices. I think that's where it started. And I spent four years at the academy under an honor code.

The nice part about telling the truth is you never have to remember what you said. It's a simple little quote, but it's the truth. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you made up.

So what you see with me is what you get.

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