Air Force is reaching into its past to build its basketball future.

The Falcons announced the hiring of Joe Scott as the new men’s basketball coach Tuesday, bringing back the coach who led the program from 2000-04, captured the academy’s lone conference title in the sport and ended a 42-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Scott, 54, was most recently an assistant at Georgia, serving two seasons with the Bulldogs.

“I am pleased to welcome Joe Scott back to the Air Force Academy to lead our men’s basketball program,” Air Force athletic director Nathan Pine said in a statement. “Joe is a person of strong character and a leader who will continue to represent our core values at Air Force. He is also a championship-caliber coach who understands the academy, what we stand for and he knows as well as anyone how to be successful here. Coach Scott is a gifted teacher with a passion for the sport of basketball and developing young men into leaders, he is the perfect person to reenergize our men’s basketball program.”

Pine kept details of the coaching search under wraps as it was done over the past three weeks while the nation and world shielded itself from the coronavirus epidemic. The other top candidate was reportedly Richmond assistant Marcus Jenkins, a former player for the Falcons under Scott.

At Air Force the first time, Scott inherited a program that hadn’t had a winning record in 22 years. He endured three losing seasons before a breakout in 2003-24 that saw the Falcons go 22-7 and win the Mountain West with a 12-2 record. They then fell 63-52 to North Carolina as an 11 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

His success at Air Force was built on defense and a cutting Princeton offense. In 2003-04, the Falcons outscored opponents by an average of 59.9-50.9. This past season, playing in a different era and with a shorter shot clock, the Falcons were outscored by an average of 74.6-73.1. He also recruited talent, with three of Air Force's six all-time first-team all-conference honorees — Nick Welch, Antoine Hood and Dan Nwaelele — among his signees.

Scott left Air Force following the 2004 season when a position at Princeton — his alma mater — opened. The Falcons continued a run of success with his recruits, returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and reaching the NIT’s Final Four in 2007.

Air Force went 90-35 from 2003-2007 with the foundation built by Scott, the best four-season run in the program’s history. It went 43-17 in conference games during that time. For perspective, it hasn’t finished above .500 in league play in any other season during its 41 years as a member of a league.

Clune Arena achieved its all-time best attendance figures under the era constructed by Scott, averaging 4,183 for five seasons beginning in 2003-04. No other season in program history, dating back to its debut in 1956-57, drew more than 3,000 per home game. They averaged 2,123 this past season, which ended with a 12-20 record.

A New Jersey native, Scott was at Princeton for three seasons from 2004-07, going 38-45. He then spent nine years at Denver, going 146-132 and taking the Pioneers to the NIT in 2012-13.

He then spent two seasons as an assistant at Holy Cross, crossing paths with Pine, who was then the athletic director for the Crusaders.

It was that connection to Pine that made Scott the immediate favorite of Air Force’s coaching search when Dave Pilipovich was fired March 9 following seven consecutive losing seasons.

“My wife Leah, our two sons, Ben and Jack, and I are extremely grateful and excited to be returning,” Scott said in a statement, calling the search process a “first-class operation.” “The academy is a special place and we loved our time here.”

The Falcons will enter the 2020-21 season under Scott with a roster that loses five seniors and finds standout sophomore point guard A.J. Walker in the transfer portal.

Joe Scott Coaching Career

Monmouth – Assistant Coach – 1991-92

Princeton – Assistant Coach – 1992-00

Air Force – Head Coach – 2000-04 

Princeton – Head Coach – 2004-07

Denver – Head Coach – 2007-16 

Holy Cross – Assistant Coach – 20016-18

Georgia – Assistant Coach – 2018-20

Scott’s Head Coaching Year-By-Year Record

Season – School – Record – Conf/Finish - Postseason

2000-01 – Air Force – 8-21 – 3-11 MW/7th

2001-02 – Air Force – 9-19 – 3-11 MW/8th

2002-03 – Air Force – 12-16 – 3-11 MW/8th

2003-04 – Air Force – 22-7 – 12-2 MW/1st – NCAA Round of 64

Record at Air Force – 51-63

2004-05 – Princeton – 15-13 – 6-8 Ivy/6th

2005-06 – Princeton – 12-15 – 10-4 Ivy/2nd

2006-07 – Princeton – 11-17 – 2-12 Ivy/8th

Record at Princeton – 38-45

2007-08 – Denver – 11-19 – 7-11 Sun Belt – West/5th

2008-09 – Denver – 15-16 – 9-9 Sun Belt – West/3rd

2009-10 – Denver – 19-13 – 10-8 Sun Belt – West/3rd

2010-11 – Denver – 13-17 – 9-7 Sun Belt – West/3rd

2011-12 – Denver – 22-9 – 11-5 Sun Belt – West/2nd

2012-13 – Denver – 22-10 – 16-2 WAC – T-1st – NIT second round 

2013-14 – Denver – 16-15 – 8-6 Summit League – 4th

2014-15 – Denver – 12-18 – 6-10 Summit League – T-6th

2015-16 – Denver – 16-15 – 7-9 Summit League 6th

Record at Denver – 146-132

Career Record - 235-240 (16 seasons)

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