No program in college football has displayed more stability in its head coaching position than Air Force.
For 36 years, only Fisher DeBerry (1984-2006) and Troy Calhoun (since 2007) have sat at the helm — the fewest coaches for a major college team during that span nationally.
However, DeBerry, the popular Hall of Fame coach, was ushered into retirement after three consecutive losing seasons. After a 34-25 loss at Navy on Saturday, Calhoun’s team is 3-2. While the team feels it has the talent to run the table in the final seven games, there’s not a slam-dunk victory remaining on the schedule.
Fresno State visits on Saturday. The Bulldogs (2-2) have won the West Division in the Mountain West the past two years and this season have suffered only a pair of single-digit losses to USC and Minnesota. Then comes a trip to Hawaii (4-1), which has beaten a pair of Power Five opponents. Then Utah State, picked second in the Mountain Division, visits. After that comes trips to New Mexico and Colorado State, against whom the Falcons are 1-6 since 2013 away from Falcon Stadium. The slate then concludes with a visit from Wyoming (4-1), which owns a three-game winning streak in the series.
If three straight losing seasons ended DeBerry’s run, would it do the same for Calhoun? Consider these factors working against him:
• Two players from Calhoun’s team faced a court martial in recent weeks on cocaine charges. Fullback Cole Fagan, last year’s leading rusher, and tailback Joseph Saucier, the leader in yards per carry last year, entered guilty pleas. Both were removed from the team during the offseason. Also, potential starting receivers David Cormier and Brandon Lewis, both sophomores, are ineligible this season as cadets not in good standing. For every case like these there is a Garrett Kauppila, Kyle Johnson or Isaiah Sanders — productive players who are exemplary as cadets and in the classroom — but to have four high-profile players removed from competition in the same year stands out as troublesome.
• The Falcons have missed bowl games in each of the past two seasons with 5-7 records and, after a loss Saturday at Navy, will fail to bring home the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy for a third consecutive year. They are 1-4 in their past five games against their service academy rivals. Calhoun’s teams are 49-44 since 2012. DeBerry’s teams went 49-45 in his final eight years. Calhoun’s record is 41-44 in that span against Football Bowl Subdivision competition.
• Air Force hired Nathan Pine as its new athletic director last year. Pine brought a background steeped in fundraising and a willingness to make coaching moves. Calhoun’s stubbornness when it comes to selling his program and players would seem a detriment to Pine’s ability to market the athletic department and mobilize donors. Calhoun’s dealings with the media through the years have grown increasingly aloof, leaving the impression he feels duty-bound to remove any trace of charisma from his public persona.
All the while he’s also narrowed the voice speaking for the program, limiting availability of assistants and players. For the past three weeks he would not allow his starting quarterback, wide receiver or tailback to speak with reporters.
• This could be an attractive job. Considering the past five hires Air Force has made — Ben Martin, Bill Parcells, Ken Hatfield, DeBerry and Calhoun — there figures to be a line of candidates willing to join that group. Sure, there are challenges to coaching at service academies. But Calhoun has found enough positives to stay despite a reported courtship from Tennessee. At Navy, Ken Niumatalolo turned down a shot at BYU to remain. So, the question may soon become, has Calhoun earned the right to keep it? And would Air Force, when examining the big picture of producing the desired cadet-athletes, winning football games and drumming up interest and funds to keep its program marketable and competitive, be better served by making a rare change?