Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Ramsey: Dave Pilipovich is comfortable as Air Force men's basketball coach but previous coaches didn't last long

BY DAVID RAMSEY THE GAZETTEby name the gazette - Published: July 1, 2013

Air Force men's basketball coach Dave Pilipovich looks comfortable in his chair, even if his office lacks central air conditioning.

"I hope to stay here as long as I can," Pilipovich says, grinning as he leans forward. "This is where I want to be."

His plans are deceptively radical. The chair where he sits has not been a place of comfort during this century. Since 2000, six coaches have occupied it as Air Force's coach. Reggie Minton and Jeff Reynolds were dismissed, and Joe Scott, Chris Mooney and Jeff Bzdelik fled at first opportunity.

Pilipovich signed a fresh five-year contract with Air Force last week, another sign he's on a serious roll. He directed the Falcons to an 18-14 record this season, and this revival arrived in the most surprising of ways.

Under Pilipovich's direction, the Falcons played jazzy, up-tempo, highly entertaining basketball. This came after a more than a decade of slow-dance basketball.

They finished 13-2 at home, where they defeated NCAA Tournament teams UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State. They came achingly close to defeating Wichita State, on its way to the Final Four. They finished with eight wins and eight losses in a powerful edition of the Mountain West.

Pilipovich has studied Air Force's tortured basketball history. He knows how difficult it will be to retain this surge of momentum.

"Finishing 8-8 for us is a 12-4 or 14-2 for another team in our league," Pilipovich said.

That might sound like typical coach talk. Basketball coaches have been known to exaggerate.

But Pilipovich has a point. He was there, sitting on the bench beside Reynolds, during the unspeakably ugly days of 2008-2010, when the Falcons lost 31 of 32 conference games. For decades, the Falcons' usual spot in a conference has been the basement.

Finishing 8-8 might get a coach fired at, say. Kansas or Syracuse. Finishing 8-8 at Air Force should have been reason to throw a parade for the Falcons.

Pilipovich is blessed with stability and a generous new contract. He enjoys working with cadets. He plans to start searching for a new home in a few months.

But he has a problem, and it's daunting. As Pilipovich relaxed in the chair that so many have recently departed, he gazed at a poster on his wall of Michael Lyons.

It was Lyons who allowed Pilipovich to go up-tempo. It was Lyons who allowed the Falcons to engage in shootouts with powerful teams at Clune and, shockingly enough, emerge as victors. It was Lyons who transformed the program.

And he's gone. Lyons graduated after averaging 17.7 points.

Lyons was not recruited by another D-1 program. He was discovered in Virginia by former assistant coach Rob Pryor.

"He just developed here," Pilipovich said of Lyons. "He was just a really talented player."

Pilipovich has shown he can coach. He can win, if he has a collection of genuine D-1 players.

His next task?

This coach who is comfortable in his own chair must find a few more Lyonses hidden somewhere out there in America.

-

Twitter: @davidramz

Air Force men's basketball coach Dave Pilipovich looks comfortable in his chair, even if his office lacks central air conditioning.

"I hope to stay here as long as I can," Pilipovich says, grinning as he leans forward. "This is where I want to be."

His plans are deceptively radical. The chair where he sits has not been a place of comfort during this century. Since 2000, six coaches have occupied it as Air Force's coach. Reggie Minton and Jeff Reynolds were dismissed, and Joe Scott, Chris Mooney and Jeff Bzdelik fled at first opportunity.

Pilipovich signed a fresh five-year contract with Air Force last week, another sign he's on a serious roll. He directed the Falcons to an 18-14 record this season, and this revival arrived in the most surprising of ways.

Under Pilipovich's direction, the Falcons played jazzy, up-tempo, highly entertaining basketball. This came after a more than a decade of slow-dance basketball.

They finished 13-2 at home, where they defeated NCAA Tournament teams UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State. They came achingly close to defeating Wichita State, on its way to the Final Four. They finished with eight wins and eight losses in a powerful edition of the Mountain West.

Pilipovich has studied Air Force's tortured basketball history. He knows how difficult it will be to retain this surge of momentum.

"Finishing 8-8 for us is a 12-4 or 14-2 for another team in our league," Pilipovich said.

That might sound like typical coach talk. Basketball coaches have been known to exaggerate.

But Pilipovich has a point. He was there, sitting on the bench beside Reynolds, during the unspeakably ugly days of 2008-2010, when the Falcons lost 31 of 32 conference games. For decades, the Falcons' usual spot in a conference has been the basement.

Finishing 8-8 might get a coach fired at, say. Kansas or Syracuse. Finishing 8-8 at Air Force should have been reason to throw a parade for the Falcons.

Pilipovich is blessed with stability and a generous new contract. He enjoys working with cadets. He plans to start searching for a new home in a few months.

But he has a problem, and it's daunting. As Pilipovich relaxed in the chair that so many have recently departed, he gazed at a poster on his wall of Michael Lyons.

It was Lyons who allowed Pilipovich to go up-tempo. It was Lyons who allowed the Falcons to engage in shootouts with powerful teams at Clune and, shockingly enough, emerge as victors. It was Lyons who transformed the program.

And he's gone. Lyons graduated after averaging 17.7 points.

Lyons was not recruited by another D-1 program. He was discovered in Virginia by former assistant coach Rob Pryor.

"He just developed here," Pilipovich said of Lyons. "He was just a really talented player."

Pilipovich has shown he can coach. He can win, if he has genuine D-1 starters.

His next task?

This coach who is comfortable in his own chair must find a few more Lyonses hidden somewhere out there in America.

-

Twitter: @davidramz

Comment Policy

Our commenting system has changed. Please register or login with your gazette.com account to comment on a story. Click here for information.

You've reached your 4 FREE premium stories this month

Get 4 more FREE stories

Simply register to continue.

Register

Subscribe now

Get access unlimited access to premium stories.

Subscribe
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement