July 23, 2011
These are sweet days for the Air Force athletic department.
The football team has won 34 games in four seasons after losing 26 of Fisher DeBerry’s last 41 games.
The hockey team has traveled to the NCAA Tournament four times in the past five seasons and came achingly close to much more. The Falcons ended all of those NCAA trips with overtime defeats.
The men’s basketball team is relevant after spending two seasons in the nation’s basement, and junior Michael Lyons has a chance to rank among the best players in the Mountain West.
The women’s basketball team is breathing. If that doesn’t sound like big news, please consider the Falcons spent two decades as one of the worst programs in college sports. Coach Andrea Williams is defying the odds, and maybe logic, by preaching an aggressive run-and-press style.
This success explains why Hans Mueh was laughing while he relaxed in his office, which boasts a fine view of the foothills.
Talking with Mueh has not always been so easy, or so pleasant. He had to ease DeBerry out the door. He had to enthusiastically, and at times angrily, defend the honor of men’s basketball coach Jeff Reynolds during the horrid days of 2008 and 2009.
He watched with great pain as women’s basketball coach Ardie McInelly and baseball coach Mike Hutcheon departed after massively unsuccessful performances.
But that was yesterday.
“I try to give people the maximum opportunity to succeed, OK,” Mueh said. “You know that. But there comes a time.”
Today, the Air Force athletic program, taken as a whole, is more successful than it’s ever been.
Let’s make this clear: We’re talking in relative terms. Air Force has not become a national powerhouse on the scale of, say, Stanford or Texas.
This is a service academy filled with restrictions. As Serratore often says, he doesn’t even bother recruiting from the “A” pool of recruits. He looks for overlooked gems in the “B” pool.
Recently, Serratore and his coaching colleagues have been discovering those hidden gems, which means even better times could be ahead for the Falcons.
The sure way to tell the football team could be headed for big things is the recent behavior of Troy Calhoun, who is nervously, and unsuccessfully, seeking to control expectations.
This could be the strongest version of the football Falcons since 2000, and maybe even since the 1998 team that finished 12-1. Air Force has two obscenely easy home games against Tennessee State and South Dakota and could climb into the nation’s top 15 by winning seven of the remaining nine games.
It’s becoming clear Serratore isn’t going anywhere. His daughter, Carly, is a cadet. His laughing, ranting coaching style is a perfect fit for the academy. I have a strong feeling the Falcons will remain winners as long as Serratore remains in Colorado Springs.
Reynolds struggled to figure out coaching at the academy. During his first three seasons, he pushed far too hard, demanded far too many hours of labor from his overwhelmed players and showed far too little humor.
“I think Jeff is starting to get his sea legs,” Mueh said. “He’s getting very comfortable here at the academy. And he’s smiling more.”
Smiling has never been a challenge for Williams, who has brought excitement to Clune Arena. She’s the rare academy basketball coach, men’s or women’s, who want to kick up the tempo.
Don’t expect the Falcons to win the Mountain West. Do expect them to grow ever more exciting.