Published: July 19, 2013
Nick Welch answers the phone and gives a brief pause before saying, "Coach Welch."
It's one of many changes he's not used to just yet.
The 2007 Air Force graduate and the school's only Mountain West Player of the Year in basketball, Welch recently began a three-year assignment as an assistant coach with the program he helped carry to its most successful stint.
"It's definitely different than answering Captain Welch," Welch said from his new office Friday. "It's a change trying to get used to wearing workout clothes to work every day. My office is the court, so it's pretty neat and I just can't say enough how blessed I am for the opportunity."
A coaching position couldn't be much further removed from the other assignments Welch has had in his six-year career as an officer. He spent four years at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana working in aircraft maintenance, followed by two years in Los Angeles as an acquisition program manager for satellites.
"I've kind of been fortunate to touch three different career fields," he said.
Air Force basketball routinely carries an active-duty assistant on its coaching staff, with Welch replacing Tom Bellairs, who served in the role for four years. Welch will have the option of extending the assignment for a fourth year and said he will consider that or other coaching or Air Force career paths when the time comes.
"Since high school, really, I wanted to be a coach," Welch said. "Obviously I knew I was going to play for a little bit longer, but I've always had the mindset to become a coach just after all my coaches and how they impacted my life and influenced me growing up."
Welch's on-court role hasn't been determined yet. Coach Dave Pilipovich has been on the road recruiting much of the time since Welch arrived last week. His primary responsibility will be to make sure players are following through with academic and military requirements.
"To have a player and officer of his caliber come back and work with our players will be a great benefit to our team as well as the athletic department," Pilipovich said in a press release issued Friday.
Welch ranks 14th on Air Force's career scoring list with 1,109 points and is 10th with 255 assists. He was co-Player of the Year in the Mountain West in 2003-04 when Air Force won the regular-season title and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1962. After sitting out a season with an ankle injury, he helped the team to an NIT semifinal appearance as a senior in 2006-07.
While serving, Welch has continued to play and has earned accolades in military events as far away as Belgium. He said he'd be more than willing to step on the court in practice to assist players.
Welch and his wife, Annie, a former volleyball player at Wyoming, have three young boys (ages 4, 2 and 1).
"I was joking the other day about how fun it's going to be to really live in Colorado Springs," Welch said. "I know I was here for six years, but it's totally different when you're at the academy."
Air Force's women's basketball team announced the hiring of Kelly Rotan, who joins coach Andrea Williams' staff after two years as an assistant at Yale. A former forward at NCAA Division III Juniata in Pennsylvania, Rotan is a native of Atco, N.J.