Ramsey: Can Troy Calhoun win at Air Force with his recruits? Recent history offers troubling answer

By David Ramsey, david.ramsey@gazette.com Updated: December 3, 2013 at 9:56 pm • Published: December 3, 2013 | 9:50 pm 0
photo - Air Force Academy coach Troy Calhoun on the sidelines during the Falcons' 56-23 loss to Wyoming Saturday, September 21, 2013 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Air Force Academy coach Troy Calhoun on the sidelines during the Falcons' 56-23 loss to Wyoming Saturday, September 21, 2013 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Troy Calhoun won nine games and lost four in 2007 while coaching a team filled with players recruited by Fisher DeBerry and his staff. Calhoun just finished a season when he won two games and lost 10 with a team recruited by his staff.

This is an alarming descent. The 2013 Falcons, the worst team in an Air Force football history that dates back to 1956, were Calhoun's creation, through and through. Calhoun's creation saved its worst performance for Saturday, managing to exceed, against all odds, the other disasters in this ugly season. The Falcons lost, 58-13, to CSU in a loss even worse than the score.

Can Calhoun win with players he recruited? The numbers are not encouraging. From 2007 to 2010, Calhoun won 34 of 52 games while leading teams led by DeBerry's recruits. From 2011 to 2013, Calhoun lost 15 of 38 games while guiding teams led by his recruits. This includes 14 losses in his last 17 games.

Air Force, normally one of the nation's running kings, was outrushed by opponents in Mountain West games. The defense - or whatever you want to call the unit - surrendered more than 40 points in eight of the team's 10 losses. The Falcons lost by 20 or more points six times.

Calhoun talked Tuesday from an undisclosed recruiting location somewhere in the Deep South. He was calm as he looked back on a disastrous season.

He believes 2014 will be vastly different than 2013. He believes in the recruits he and his assistants have delivered to the academy in recent seasons. He expects strong performances next season from D.J. Johnson, Jalen Robinette, Garrett Griffin, Ryan Watson and Weston Steelhammer.

The 2014 Falcons, he promises, will be more intelligent, more durable and more resilient. And more experienced. Calhoun started only one senior on the ultra-porous 2014 defense.

"We'll be heck of a lot more competitive football team," he said.

Calhoun dislikes relying on young players. Well, dislike isn't a strong enough word.

"It's stupid playing guys who are freshman, which this year we did," he said.

Stupid?

"I shouldn't say stupid," Calhoun said. "But you want to be senior and junior dominated."

Earlier Tuesday, Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh sat in his office and talked with the same confidence. After watching Calhoun direct the Falcons to six straight bowl games from 2007 to 2012, Mueh declines to panic. He believes in his coach, and he trusts 2014 will not be a repeat of 2013.

"I'm excited about the future," Mueh said.

The talent level, Mueh insisted, has not fallen. He's been impressed by the recent recruiting performance by Calhoun's staff.

In Mueh's eyes, the 2013 collapse can be explained by injuries, especially at quarterback, an inexperienced defense and horrific luck.

"You just go, God, give us a break," Mueh said. "We didn't have a single break this season. They were young, and they will get better. I love the coaching staff that we have."

Mueh is not overly concerned by the gradual decline of Calhoun's win totals. Yes, Mueh said, Calhoun won with DeBerry's players

"But I want to point out to you that in the last few years of Fisher's time, Fisher couldn't do that with his own folks and Troy did," Mueh said.

Calhoun and Mueh are sweeping away bitter images of 2013 while gazing at the afternoons of sunshine and victories awaiting them in 2014. This stubborn belief in tomorrow usually is a wise approach to football and life. Optimists walk a superior path to the gloomy one frequented by pessimists.

Even if optimism can sometimes veer dangerously close to obliviousness.

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