A year ago, I glanced across a football field in Pueblo and saw a member of an endangered species. Yes, Troy Calhoun was in full view.
His son, Tyler, had just won the state 3A football title with his Palmer Ridge teammates. At the moment, father was not on such a roll after a second-straight 5-7 season, part of a depressing plunge of only eight wins in 22 Football Bowl Subdivision games. Calhoun had directed his Falcons to four losing seasons since 2012.
He was a losing season away from losing his job. He was in grave danger. Or at least he should have been in danger.
Today, Calhoun flies at his pinnacle. His Falcons soar with a 10-2 record, seven straight wins and the nation’s No. 24 ranking.
A porous defense transformed to one of the most rugged in academy history. An offense that lost four important players to serious misbehavior and/or less-than-serious studying still hummed to 34.3 points a game while led by the nation’s third-best rushing offense. (And Tyler won his third straight state title on Saturday in Pueblo.)
Calhoun fell a bit short of painting his coaching masterpiece. If his Falcons hold tight to a last-minute lead at Navy, Air Force returns that massive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to Clune Arena and celebratory dancing begins. Instead, Air Force is a C-of-C runner-up for the eighth time in the 12-season Calhoun era.
After his big year, it’s time to applaud Calhoun for his comeback. But Calhoun has hard labor remaining before he joins Fisher DeBerry at the top of Air Force’s all-time football coaches.
Here are two attainable goals to consider, coach:
One — Construct a truly great season
In 1958, Coach Ben Martin and his Air Force Falcons finished 9-0-2 and finished as the nation’s No. 6 ranked team, a staggering achievement for a two-season-old program. It was a forever statement of what was possible for the Falcons.
In 1985 and 1998, DeBerry pushed his Falcons to 12-1 seasons and barely lost both games. He made a statement on the power of Air Force’s antique, run-obsessed offense in football’s pass-happy modern era.
In this century, the Falcons have been sometimes been good but never quite great, and that’s true again in 2019. Air Force beat the teams it was supposed to beat and lost to the two best teams on the schedule. Yes, the victory over Colorado at Boulder delivered pure joy to Colorado Springs, but the Buffs failed to join our nation’s 80 bowl teams. It was not much of a signature win.
Rampaging through the Mountain West with an unbeaten record and climbing into the nation’s top 15 are not some wild, can’t-be-touched visions. For one thing, the Mountain West has lacked might after the departure of Utah, Brigham Young and TCU.
Two — Grow into a worthy spokesman for the football program
Calhoun chooses, for reasons only he understands, to speak for his Falcons in a rambling, barely comprehensible style. Ah, that was too generous. It is fully incomprehensible.
He praises opponents, comparing so-so current athletes to all-time greats. He shows little, and often no, fire while talking of his own players. He won’t answer tough questions. He won’t answer easy questions.
His style is popular with no one except, maybe, Troy Calhoun. Trust me on that one. I’ve never met anyone at the academy who supports or understands Calhoun’s weird-deluxe media approach. Many at the academy are openly hostile to Calhoun’s openly hostile media style.
He can change. He should change. Those oceans of empty seats at Air Force games are not solely Calhoun’s doing, but those oceans of emptiness at Falcon Stadium shout loudly to his shortcomings.
Tens of thousands of devout football fans in Colorado Springs have never attended an Air Force game. They are untouched by the program in their backyard.
Here’s one reason: The football coach shows little, and often zero, enthusiasm for the team he coaches. Salesman is not at the top of Calhoun’s job description. I get that.
But it’s part of the description. And it’s beyond time he gets that.