Updated: March 3, 2012 at 12:00 am
Mueh wanted to see the players respond under interim coach Dave Pilipovich, after Jeff Reynolds was fired Feb. 8, and he saw them play hard. The Falcons won a couple of games under Pilipovich, including an upset of 13th-ranked San Diego State. He made up his mind before the regular season ended that he wanted Pilipovich as his permanent coach, and felt the uncertainty would have been a hindrance in recruiting and a distraction at the conference tournament next week.
So Mueh brought in Pilipovich late Friday and informed him he was hiring him as the full-time coach. The move was announced before Air Force’s game against Colorado State on Saturday. Although the salary hasn’t been finalized, Mueh said the sides would have a three-year deal. Mueh said he “won’t ever regret this decision, no matter what happens.”
“I just felt very confident, not just in Dave, but Dave, the coaching staff he has with him, the team and the way they respond to Dave Pilipovich, so I wasn’t interested in starting over if I didn’t have to,” Mueh said. “And I don’t have to, because I think we have a great, great coach in Dave.”
Mueh said he wanted stability, especially with so many players coming back next season, and he didn’t want to upset the chemistry the team had after Pilipovich took over. He brought up Fisher DeBerry, an assistant who was hired without a search and became a Hall of Fame football coach. While it looked like Pilipovich and his staff were getting an audition of at least eight games, Mueh considered all five years Pilipovich has been at the academy when he evaluated him.
“It’s not like when I made the change, that’s the first time I had seen Dave,” Mueh said. “There’s a constant in him, a constant in terms of values and who he is. He’s real. He agonizes with the players. He’s a very, very good basketball coach and brings some good experience with him.”
When Pilipovich told his wife Kelly about the news, he said she cried tears of joy. Pilipovich is in his 26th year as a coach, and he patiently waited for his chance to guide his own program. He said often that he was fine with whatever happened, but getting the news was a relief to him and his family.
“We’ve always said it’s been 26 years, and we’ve been chasing it, chasing it, chasing it,” Pilipovich said. “Some days you think you’re going to find it, and some days you think you may never find it. But it caught up to us, and it couldn’t be at a better place.”
One unusual aspect of the move is that Pilipovich and his assistants were on the bench with Reynolds, who was fired in midseason. But Mueh has been impressed with Pilipovich’s positive approach and how he handles the cadets, and remarked how he had a different style than Reynolds.
“Every coach has a different style, and Dave impressed me with the way he approaches basketball,” Mueh said. “You can say they were part of the old regime, but if I thought it was the same thing, I probably wouldn’t have kept this group. But it’s not the same. Dave is his own person.”
Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891
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