While six Mountain West teams have scrambled to find new football coaches this offseason, Air Force is making the final touches on a six-year deal for its veteran leader.
Athletic director Nathan Pine announced on social media Monday evening that a deal with Troy Calhoun running through the 2025 season was in the works, a point he expanded upon Tuesday in a conversation with The Gazette.
“It is important that we keep the continuity,” Pine said of Calhoun, who took over at Air Force in 2007. “We have leadership here that will continue to drive our program in a successful direction. The season that we’re coming off of is pretty impressive.”
The Falcons went 11-2, finishing the season ranked No. 22 by The Associated Press in a poll released late Monday. It was Air Force’s first appearance in the season’s final poll since 1998.
Calhoun’s team is riding an eight-game winning streak — second only to national champion LSU (16) among FBS programs — in a season it finished No. 2 nationally in rushing (behind only Navy), No. 3 in passing efficiency (behind Alabama and LSU) and had the No. 17 total defense.
The current deal for Calhoun was set to expire after the 2022 season.
“Troy Calhoun’s a grad, he does it the right way,” Pine said. “He’s done it here for a long time and he leads by example. He understands the Air Force Academy and what we’re all about and he represents us very well.
We have things going in a good direction, and it’s important for us to continue that continuity and important for us to say it publicly — our mutual commitment.”
Pine said the timing of the announcement, with the deal perhaps two to three weeks away from completion, was meant to stress the time frame of the new contract with the Feb. 5 national signing day approaching.
“I think that’s why we made the announcement the way we did,” Pine said. “We did it through the Twitter account. It’s important that, publicly, people understand the mutual commitment, especially as we get to the finish line of the recruiting cycle so there’s no ambiguity there. But, until we have a signed contract, we’re not going to put that out there through our website or the official Air Force channels even though we’re getting close to it.”
Air Force has moved much of the finances of the athletic department under the umbrella of the nonprofit Air Force Academy Athletic Corp., which allows it to keep salaries and contract details private. Calhoun’s last contract made public, signed July 1, 2013, paid a base of $825,000 annually. This is at least his fifth new deal since then at a time when coaches’ salaries have sharply escalated.
Newly hired football coaches at Colorado State and UNLV will each make $1.5 million annually, while existing deals for coaches at Wyoming and Boise State paid reported base salaries of $2.137 and $1.75 million, respectively, during the 2019 season.
“We feel very good about where we are amongst our peers,” Pine said.
Calhoun’s 13 years with Air Force makes him easily the longest-tenured head coach in the conference, with Wyoming’s Craig Bohl and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin next at six years. The other 11 programs in the conference have a combined 19 years of experience among their head coaches, a figure Calhoun would match at the completion of this contract. Half of the league’s programs will enter 2020 with new coaches.
Pine said the turnover of coaches didn’t impact the desire or urgency to extend Calhoun’s deal.
“For us, it’s more about doing what’s right for the academy and making sure that we have the leader in place that we need,” said Pine, who is approaching his one-year anniversary in his role Thursday. “And if we’re doing things the right way here at our place and taking care of it here at home, I can’t worry and stress about the things that are happening outside of the academy.”
Calhoun, a 1989 Air Force graduate, holds a 98-69 record at Air Force and has taken the team to bowl games in 10 of his 13 seasons. The Falcons won the Cheez-It Bowl over Washington State on Dec. 27, completing a season that included wins over a pair of teams from Power Five conferences for the first time since 2002.