Ramsey: Air Force Academy's passive approach will not cut it

December 4, 2013 Updated: December 5, 2013 at 10:31 am
photo - Air Force's defensive back Christian Spears reaches up to try to bring down UNLV's running back Tim Cornett as he runs in a touchdown in the second quarter. Air Force played UNLV in their last home game of the season on Thursday, November 21, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Air Force's defensive back Christian Spears reaches up to try to bring down UNLV's running back Tim Cornett as he runs in a touchdown in the second quarter. Air Force played UNLV in their last home game of the season on Thursday, November 21, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Air Force's football team is in shambles after allowing nearly 46 points per game in conference play, but athletic director Hans Mueh believes he has a solution for a defense that can't accurately be described as a defense.

"We need a gunslinger," he said.

A gunslinger, Mueh explains, would be a defensive coordinator who embraces all the fun and terror of calculated gambling.

"We need people to take unbelievable risks," Mueh said. "Blitz every play from some different direction. If you get burned, you get burned. I don't care. But for us not to be able to put any pressure - any pressure! - on any quarterback we saw this year? We made every quarterback in the league look like an All-American."

Here's the crucial question of Air Force's offseason:

Can current defensive coordinator Charlton Warren thrive as that gunslinger?

The past two seasons shout no. Since Warren took over in 2012, the Falcons have allowed more than 30 points 13 times and more than 40 points 10 times, including eight times this season.

Mueh paused when asked if Warren is the "gunslinger" the Air Force defense requires.

"I don't know," Mueh answered. "I didn't see it this year. I'll be honest. I didn't see it this year. Can he? Yeah, he can."

Mueh said he would leave the decision on next season's defensive coordinator with coach Troy Calhoun. Mueh did say he expects Calhoun to make changes in his defensive staff.

"I think he's going to shake it up a little," Mueh said.

Warren's Air Force future is a complex decision. Yes, Warren has his share of blame in the 2013 collapse, Air Force's first 10-loss season, but he's a 1999 AFA grad who played defensive back for consecutive 10-win teams in 1997 and 1998. He's served as an AFA assistant since 2005.

Warren is the most gifted recruiter on the coaching staff. He recruited Cody Getz out of suburban Atlanta and spoke strongly against objections from his fellow coaches. Those coaches wondered how Getz, who stood 5-foot-7 and weighed 160 pounds, could thrive in the college game.

Warren stood among his fellow coaches and insisted Getz would become a star. He was right. Getz grew only slightly during his years at the academy. Didn't matter. He still gained 1,248 yards rushing for the Falcons in 2012.

When Warren finds a player he wants, chances are you soon will see that player at Falcon Stadium. His gift of persuasion makes him valuable to the football program.

Calhoun spoke carefully on Tuesday about the Warren decision. Calhoun said he will review the roles of all his assistants. He complimented Warren on his past work with Air Force defensive backs. In 2009, the Warren-coached defensive backfield collected 20 interceptions and finished fifth in the nation in pass defense.

Still, Calhoun made no commitment to Warren as defensive coordinator, even though it is clear he wants Warren to remain on his staff.

"We know this: We absolutely want him as part of what we're involved in," Calhoun said. "He's a great, great leader."

Following the 2006 season, coach Fisher DeBerry encountered a similar dilemma to the one faced by Calhoun. The Falcons defense was often shredded in 2006, which led fans to demand the ouster of lead coordinator Richard Bell.

Bell, like Warren, was the Falcons' best recruiter. Bell, like Warren, was embraced, even beloved, by his players.

DeBerry refused to demote Bell. This is one of prime reasons DeBerry soon resigned.

In 2007, Tim DeRuyter took over the Falcons' defense. Air Force lost 15 of DeBerry's last 21 games. With DeRuyter leading defenders, the Falcons won 17 of Calhoun's first 23 games.

DeRuyter, now the coach at Fresno State, led the revival of a football program. A new defensive coordinator meant a fresh start for a downtrodden team.

Let's be truthful: I'm a fan of Warren. I admire his commitment to his alma mater, admire his proven ability to deliver gifted recruits, admire his enthusiasm and charisma, admire his past work with the secondary.

But college football is not dictated by sentiment. It's dictated by victory. With Warren leading the defense, the Falcons have lost 14 of their past 17 games.

Will he return as the leader of Air Force's defenseless defense?

All those scary, depressing numbers and all those losses say no.

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