September 25, 2009
Troy Calhoun revived an Air Force football program that lost power during Fisher DeBerry’s final days. He converted loser to winner, re-imagined the option attack and toughened one of America’s softer defenses.
And he did all this without making it all about Troy Calhoun. He did all this with the windows open for all to see.
Successful college football coaches often turn the program into a personality cult. The message from many of these coaches is simple:
Look at me!
Calhoun has been humble enough and wise enough to divert credit for Air Force’s rise. He points to his assistants and his players and his friend and hero, DeBerry.
When Calhoun does talk about himself, he mentions his struggle to match his socks in the morning. He’s successful in this struggle, he said, only with the help of his wife, Amanda.
His team took on his personality. Take a look at Calhoun on the Air Force sideline, and you see a focused yet relaxed coach scheming for victory by any means possible. He’s intense, but his intensity doesn’t muddy his mind.
And he’s been ready to take risks. The signature play of the Calhoun era came early in 2007 against TCU. The Falcons trailed the Horned Frogs by a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
On fourth-and-18-inches from the Air Force 29, Calhoun shouted his belief in his team by going for it. Halfback Jim Ollis followed sensational blocking to a 71-yard touchdown, leading to a massive upset. It was Calhoun at his best.
I’ve been wondering this season about Calhoun. Part of this wondering comes after he placed draconian restrictions on the press, making it absurdly difficult to talk to him, his assistants and his players.
The policies don’t fit the personality of the confident, nothing-to-hide coach we used to know.
But that’s not my primary question.
Calhoun arrived at Air Force as an intelligent gambler. He knew he had to defy the odds to grab victories over more gifted opponents. He was seldom, if ever, cautious.
This season’s version of Calhoun seems strangely uptight. No one learned anything valuable from Air Force’s routs over Nicholls State and New Mexico, but the loss at Minnesota revealed a risk-averse, paint-by-the-numbers coach and team.
The Golden Gophers were reeling and a big win on the road was right there. Calhoun, for the first time in his career, seemed afraid to take a chance.
The coach who went for it on fourth-and-18-inches looked a little stiff and a little lost in the fourth quarter.
Calhoun brought his alma mater’s football team back from the brink, and he did it with classy, no-ego style. He even interviewed for other jobs each year without producing a backlash.
He’s masterfully handled adversity.
Can he handle success?