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Ramsey: Air Force must find an AD who believes in winning, stops making excuses

June 12, 2014 Updated: June 13, 2014 at 9:23 am
Caption +
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

The next Air Force athletic director should place winning at the top of her or his list of priorities. It's time to stop making excuses about military restraints. It's time to stop chasing mediocrity.

Winning is paramount in any athletic department, and this includes a military academy on the edge of Colorado Springs. If the Falcons do not plan to pursue Mountain West titles, the athletic department might as well dissolve while the academy formulates a world-class intramural program.

Football coach Troy Calhoun has fallen into the habit of saying his football team can't be judged until a later date, when the players have become officers and served all over the world.

He's wrong. His football team finished with two wins and 10 losses last season.

It can easily be easily judged.

The Falcons were pitiful. Calhoun's football team failed in its mission.

The temptation for Air Force will be to hire an athletic director who fits comfortably into academy culture. That would be a mistake. The academy needs to hire an athletic director who will make the entire academy feel discomfort. The academy needs a director who will make coaches feel endangered. Fear is a great motivator. Fear produces victories.

A few miles down I-25, athletic director Ken Ralph recently watched over the "resignation" of Scott Owens as Colorado College hockey coach. Several thousand CC fans were rattled by the move while several thousand others rejoiced. This is what ADs do. They make big, bold, controversial decisions.

Hans Mueh delivered many triumphs during his reign as Air Force AD, which concludes in August 2015.

He led a revival of the football program, which had fallen into disrepair in the final years of Fisher DeBerry's direction. (It's again fallen into disrepair.)

He went with his gut and hired Dave Pilipovich to succeed Jeff Reynolds as basketball coach. At the time, this move seemed wildly wrong. Pilipovich, an assistant, had sat beside Reynolds while the Falcons lost 31 of 32 Mountain West games over two seasons.

Mueh's gut was correct. Pilipovich ended the bad drama, and the mountains of losses, of the Reynolds era. Pilipovich had always been the solution, not the problem.

But Mueh has his weaknesses. He could be too sentimental, sticking with bad choices too long and failing to make the tough calls that would allow teams to thrive.

Air Force is paying Reynolds more than $400,000 annually, the result of a contract extension offered, with no reason, when the Falcons were bumbling at the bottom of the college basketball world. The contract finally will be paid off in August.

Earlier this year, Mueh led an examination into the possibility of eliminating Air Force sports teams. According to two athletic department sources, the Falcons were extremely close to chopping men's and women's gymnastics, boxing and baseball.

Mueh intervened, saving the four sports while cutting positions and budget from several other teams. This decision was popular with coaches and athletes from the four rescued sports. That's the good news.

The not-so-good news?

The decision infuriated coaches who saw staff and budget cut.

Mueh's move was only a postponement. The Falcons, under current budget pressures, will fail to continue fielding all of their sports teams. The number of teams will shrink, and soon.

The woman or man who follows Mueh needs an unrelenting focus. The AD's office should be a destination where winning is the No. 1 priority. Yes, it's tough to form an academy team that successfully competes in the vicious world of college sports, but a coach who refuses to make excuses while emphasizing the blessings of academy athletes can find success.

DeBerry twice flirted with undefeated seasons. Hockey coach Frank Serratore directed the Falcons to five NCAA Tournaments. Calhoun, when he was talking about winning instead of jabbering about throwing graduation hats in the air, guided the Falcons to six straight bowl games. Joe Scott took one of the worst college basketball programs in America and lifted it to a Mountain West title and the NCAA Tournament.

The evidence is there in abundance. Winning at the academy is not an impossible dream.

The new AD must be a true believer and a tough dreamer and a diligent worker.

The new AD must chase victory. Unapologetically. Unrelentingly.

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