Just three years ago, it didn’t look as if we would be talking about The Calhoun Decade.
As the 2014 season approached, Troy Calhoun’s football house at Air Force was crumbling. He finished 2-10 in 2013, beating only Army and Colgate. He lost four games by more than 30 points, including a 45-point season-ending loss to Colorado State. The beating could have been even more savage, but the Rams felt pity on Calhoun’s outmatched and befuddled players.
When service-academy football teams fall down, they stay down. Calhoun was staggering. He looked perilously close to being done at his alma mater.
He wasn’t done. Not even close. He arose, along with his football program.
Since CSU devoured his team in 2014, Calhoun has won 28 of 40 games, including a 5-1 record against Army and Navy. He’s beaten Boise State three straight times. He’s won two bowl games. He’s scored over 40 points 12 times.
He’s on a serious roll. He’s making me wonder if we’re on our way to a second full decade of Calhoun.
He hasn’t changed. He remains unique. Yes, the word “unique” is overused.
Let’s say it again: Calhoun is unique.
When talking to the press about his starting quarterback, he makes references to the Rhine River and the Tennessee Valley Authority. When talking about a game being moved from Falcon Stadium to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, he refers to a disappointed yet obedient Vietnam War officer.
He goes through the same routine with his assistants. The Falcon coaches will be gathered in a room, talking in great detail about an upcoming game with, say, Wyoming.
And then the head man starts talking about a battle from the 18th century. Calhoun will talk in impressive detail about a long-ago battle and attempt to make those details relevant to a football struggle a few days away.
For a few seconds, the assistants wonder what is going on in the mind of their boss, but then they realize:
This is how Calhoun works, and thinks.
A football game, in his mind, is part of an effort far bigger than a mere game. He’s training young men to become officers. He seeks, in a small way, to be part of the history he studies with such devotion.
In so many ways, The Calhoun Decade has been a success. He’s been consistent, traveling to nine bowl games. He’s on the rise, collecting two 10-win seasons in the past three years. He’s been loyal, listening to job offers but never taking the leap to more money, more pressure and more media demands.
Still, as Calhoun trots into the dawn of his second Air Force decade, serious work remains.
His Falcons never have finished the season ranked in the Top 25, and even his best seasons have included baffling crashes, including a 2016 surrender to Hawaii at Falcon Stadium. Fisher DeBerry crafted two 12-win masterpieces and even flirted with a national championship during his 23-year reign at Air Force; Calhoun has yet to reach those heights.
Calhoun struggles, and fails, to sell his program to the Pikes Peak region. Attendance dropped every season during The Calhoun Decade. In his last home game, Calhoun led the Falcons to a dramatic victory over Mountain West power Boise State on a clear, warm November day at Falcon Stadium.
It was a sensational effort by Calhoun and Air Force, one of the finest in program history.
The stadium was less than half full.
But, remember, he’s not done. Not even close. He has Arion Worthman, an undersized, determined and rugged quarterback who could become the MW’s most dangerous offensive threat. Yet another winning season is probable.
At Air Force practices, Calhoun usually stands alone, a couple of dozen yards away from the action, with his eyes locked on his players. He misses, according to those players, nothing. If you aren’t hustling or aren’t exactly where you should be, you will hear about it from the head man.
This month, at practices on the edge of Colorado Springs, he’s standing there again, alone as always, his quirky football mind hard at work.