Q&A with Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh

March 4, 2014 Updated: March 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm
photo - Air Force Academy Athletic Director Dr. Hans Mueh poses next to a mural Monday, May 20, 2013, at the Academy's Athletic Hall of Fame. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Air Force Academy Athletic Director Dr. Hans Mueh poses next to a mural Monday, May 20, 2013, at the Academy's Athletic Hall of Fame. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

The Air Force athletic director fielded questions from media about the impending budget cuts that, while sparing all sports from elimination, will force a 10.2 percent reduction in athletic department spending and eliminate 30 personnel positions.

Q: Do you know where the cuts, particularly in personnel, are going to come from?

Hans Mueh: Not yet. There will be some administrative jobs within the athletic department. The only one I can say right now would be the position held by my director of support, Col. Wayne Kellenbence. He retired and we will not fill that position. So that is one position I offered up, and it is a significant one. (Note: Kellenbence's most recently salary was reported as $107,000. It was not made clear if cutting higher salaried spots might allow fewer lower-salaried positions to be lost).

When you divide the 10.2 percent over the entirety of your department, will special consideration be given to revenue-generating sports so as to not jeopardize an existing flow of income?

Yes, a lot. You have to sort of trust us to get this right. We have a target figure. We are shooting for that target figure, which worked out to be a roughly 10.2 percent cut across the budget for the 27 sports. We will manage that internally. It won't be a cookie-cutter slice across each sport.

Football games scheduled at Michigan and Michigan State in the upcoming seasons will bring a lot of money into athletics. Do these cuts provide extra pressure for your coaches to schedule more "money games" like this?

Part of the reason we set up the Air Force Academy Athletic Corp. is to get away from those kinds of pressures. We have those games scheduled, and those are windfall games and not only that, those are great relationships we have. But going forward I'd like to get to a point with Derm (Coll)'s help in terms of fundraising for the athletic department and the whole academy, where we can get away from being tied to those kinds of games to support the programs that we have. So it's external fundraising that we would have never been able to do before under the nonappropriated funds that we can now.

What does this do to hopes of performing renovations to Falcon Stadium?

It's sort of on the backburner. It's still there. We have an idea of doing some things in Falcon Stadium. I think we'll have to modify that somewhat. Gen. (Michelle) Johnson and I have been in constant discussion about that. ... I think it will be low-hanging fruit. We're going to do some things. We're already going to do some cosmetic things in the blue-silver area on the west side. I would like to do some things in the locker room, for example. But I think those can be small, private gifts that can handle things like that. It's still a pretty nice stadium after all these years.

Several coaching staffs include an active-duty officer, an example being Capt. Nick Welch in basketball. Do those positions count against the athletic department budget, or is that pay that comes out of a general Air Force fund. If it is the latter, could that be a workaround to supplement staff numbers without counting against the 10.2 percent cut?

I do not expect that. My military staff, when I arrived, included 45 uniformed officers. I even had an enlisted person. Now I'm down to 27. I don't want to go any lower than that because we have to have a military presence for role modeling to the cadet athletes. I don't want us to get to be a full civilian work force. But we're not in position Air Force-wise to add more positions.

In the cadet wing, upperclassmen will be called upon to fill some of the responsibilities that are held by the academy military trainers. Is there a sports equivalent to that, where cadets might be able to take leadership positions and ease some of the burden created by the loss of positions?

We are able to use the first-year lieutenant program to help us with logistics on sports teams. They don't even count toward our military strength. They're only here for a year, and we will probably get 10 of those this year. They can plan this trip for you or handle this logistics piece. They probably can't coach, but they can take some off some of the load from the coaches so they can do more. In the past we've had cadets who were assistant coaches. They still had eligibility left, but some had maybe had career-ending injuries. Everything is open. We're way beyond the "it's nice to have" phase. We're funding only critical need things.

You sometimes hear employees who have been taken through multiple rounds of layoffs or paycuts wonder if the company wouldn't have been wiser to simply reduce numbers at the start and take better care of those who remained. Did you consider that with the budget cuts, that perhaps eliminating a sport might allow others to run more smoothly?

It was a contingent, but I'm the wrong A.D. for that. I go down there and watch the cadets' faces and see what they're getting out of competition. You know me, I'd love to have 4,000 intercollegiate athletes. This is the right way to go. It really is. We'll strap it on and everybody will step up and we'll work a little harder. We've been through these budget drills before. We've been through personnel cuts before. We've had the time when we've only had a head coach for a while and they've worked through it.

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