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Ramsey: Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun struggles to keep home games at home

October 20, 2015 Updated: October 21, 2015 at 9:27 am
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Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun gets heated with an official after a catch by CSU near the sideline in the third quarter of a game at Hughes Stadium on Saturday, October 17, 2015. Air Force lost to CSU 38-23. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

Troy Calhoun wants to keep Air Force's home football games at home.

How much?

This much:

As the 2013 football season approached, representatives of the Air Force Academy were close to signing a $3.6 million deal to play Notre Dame at Mile High on the edge of downtown Denver.

The contract with the Denver Sports Commission would have provided preferential seating for Air Force cadets and season-ticket holders, according to former athletic director Hans Mueh.

The game was instead played, as originally scheduled, at Falcon Stadium.

Why?

"Because Troy Calhoun didn't want to play it up there," Mueh said Friday.

The Falcons lost to Notre Dame 45-10 and cleared slightly above $2 million in revenue, Mueh said. The athletic department surrendered more than $1.5 million by keeping the game on the edge of Colorado Springs.

On Oct. 15, Air Force athletic director Jim Knowlton announced the Falcons will transport a 2016 home game against New Mexico to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The game, Knowlton said in a statement, will be a "memorable experience for ... everyone associated with our football program."

On Saturday, Knowlton declined further comment on moving the game to Dallas.

Calhoun was asked Monday about moving a home game 754 miles away from his beloved Falcon Stadium.

"That's not for a coach to comment on," Calhoun said as he departed the practice field. "... Your job is to follow orders."

Still, it's clear he remains opposed to the idea of moving home games.

"I just think it's flat wrong to do that to fans," he said. "I think you owe something to your strongest supporters, that are your season ticket holders ... and to the cadets too."

Calhoun said this was his "general" view of moving games.

The coach's stance has long created tension in the Air Force athletic department. Calhoun opposed moving games during Mueh's tenure as AD, which ended in late 2014. His opposition lingers into 2015.

This is not the first time the Cotton Bowl has pursued Air Force for a football game. In 2010, three representatives from Dallas flew to Colorado Springs for a meeting with Mueh.

The reps wanted to bring Air Force-Army games to the Cotton Bowl in 2011 and 2012 and hoped to move the series to Dallas on a long-term basis.

"They were talking about 14 years," Mueh said.

Mueh was intrigued by the offer. Air Force, he said, would have shared "a huge piece" of the seat revenue and had a chance at "incredible publicity in the Texas market."

Army ended the negotiations, Mueh said.

During Mike Gould's 2009-13 tenure as Air Force superintendent, Calhoun could look to a powerful ally in his opposition to moving games.

Gould played football for Air Force (1973-76) and remembers loud, happy crowds at Falcon Stadium. As a cadet, he became friends with the late John Clune, who served as athletic director from 1975-91.

Clune holds lofty stature in Air Force sports history. He hired Bill Parcells to coach the football team. He arranged for the Falcons to play in the Western Athletic Conference, ending Air Force's days as an independent. Clune Arena, home of the Falcons basketball teams, is named in his honor.

According to Gould, Clune opposed moving home football games away from Falcon Stadium.

"Falcon football," Gould said, "is something special to this community. That's what John Clune always said. Why take our marquee games somewhere else? Why go somewhere else to play them instead of treating our hometown fans? We should let our Colorado Springs community and our faithful watch our games."

Mueh understands the downside of taking home games on the road. He is, like Calhoun, an Air Force graduate with fond memories of games played at Falcon Stadium.

As AD, Mueh juggled the need for additional revenue with the requirement to keep local ticket buyers happy. He often sat down across the table from Calhoun for spirited yet friendly discussions.

"He was a total professional in asking for things," Mueh said. "I tended to listen to him. Most of the time, he was right on. We had a great working relationship. We still do."

Mueh is enjoying retirement at his homes in Colorado Springs and Arizona. He's finished negotiating with a football coach who wants to stay home.

Knowlton and Calhoun, meanwhile, have just begun the complicated dance of deciding when to take a home game to a distant destination.

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