October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:50 am
After Air Force's first game this season, someone asked Troy Calhoun to comment on his team's quarterbacks.
Pretty soon, Calhoun was talking about Germany's Rhine River and the Tennessee Valley Authority in a rather complex examination of how rising water relates to football. He never mentioned Kale Pearson or Jaleel Awini by name. He almost never mentions a player by name.
Calhoun declines to deliver direct answers to direct questions about his football team. He instead rambles, taking frequent detours to surprising destinations. He talks about the joy of watching cadets toss their hats in the air at graduation. He wonders what his players will be doing in 20 years. He emphasizes a cadet's grueling life.
He almost never employs specific words to explain his football team.
And talking clearly about his football team is part of his job. Devoted Air Force fans look to Calhoun to explain their favorite team, and he fails those fans every time he meets with the media.
He also fails himself. Calhoun's evasive, say-nothing style hurts no one more than . Troy Calhoun.
Here's what I mean: During my decade with The Gazette, I've worked with Colorado College's Scott Owens and Air Force's Frank Serratore. Both are masters at employing the media to their advantage.
They criticize and praise their players. They sell their program, along with tickets, to the Pikes Peak region. They utter specific answers to specific questions. They keep their secrets, which are wise, but more often talk openly and honestly. This is the best approach to leading a sports team. This is the best approach to life.
A few years ago, I was sitting in an Italian restaurant in Old Colorado City, enjoying a late lunch when my phone rang. It was Serratore. His hockey team was bumbling along, and he wanted to rip them. He knew a few specific, angry words of disappointment, uttered to a local columnist, could revive his team. He was correct. The Falcons, fueled by their coach's public push, traveled to the NCAA Tournament.
If an athlete is praised or criticized by his coach in public, he/she is going to hear about it from friends and family, and he/she is going to be roused to greater effort.
On Tuesday, I asked Calhoun about Air Force's Jon Lee-Anthony LaCoste halfback rotation. He answered the question with a long, vague discussion of a halfback's role in the Air Force offense.
In classic Calhoun style, he never mentioned Lee or LaCoste by name. He missed a chance, once again, to seize the attention of his players.
Calhoun is, no doubt, a bright man, but he's outsmarting himself. In 2007, his first season as Air Force coach, he was open and thoughtful in discussing his team. His Falcons finished 9-4 and could easily have finished 11-2 if not for fumbles against New Mexico and a Shaun Carney injury against California.
Since then, he's fallen under the influence of Alabama coach Nick Saban, who may - or may not - be a human being. Since then, and this might just be a coincidence, Calhoun has never enjoyed such a bright season.
Saban enjoys dodging the inquiries of the press, and he's taught Calhoun to be dodgy, too. But there's a crucial difference in Saban's and Calhoun's jobs. Saban must manage his state's obsession with The Crimson Tide. Calhoun endures and enjoys no such obsession. He trots into Falcon Stadium nearly every home game looking at thousands of empty seats.
Calhoun needs to sell his program to a public reluctant to purchase tickets or pay close attention. He can start selling this week.
On Saturday, Calhoun and his Falcons travel to Nevada for a crucial game. The Falcons and their coach desperately require a victory to breathe life into a staggering season.
After the game, someone will ask Calhoun about quarterback Karson Roberts, the probable starter after Awini's suspension.
Here's a suggestion, coach:
Answer the question. Be specific. Praise or criticize Roberts and make sure to actually speak his name. This approach will be helpful to Roberts, helpful to your team.
And, most of all, helpful to Troy Calhoun.