DENVER — Win, and no one remembers the coaching search.

Win, and critics like me will quiet down about a search advertised as a national and comprehensive search — wink, wink — but always was locked on one man. Win, and athletic director Nathan Pine looks like a hiring genius for returning Joe Scott to Air Force.

"I know Joe Scott," Pine said Wednesday when he reintroduced Scott as the men’s basketball coach at the academy. "I've worked with Joe."

And that’s the concern here — that the Air Force search committee just ran a phony search where only one candidate had a real shot at the gig, that Pine hiring Scott is yet another example of the buddy-buddy system that limits opportunity for up-and-comers and is all too prevalent in college hoops.

I liked candidate finalist Marcus Jenkins for the job. That’s no secret. (Or another ambitious candidate with service academy ties, like Missouri assistant Chris Hollender.) I liked the idea of affording the opportunity to an Air Force grad and doubling down on the "Bolt Brotherhood" the academy rambles on about. Instead, the Falcons went with brotherhood. Or former co-workerhood.

Pine and Scott worked together for two seasons at Holy Cross, where Pine was the AD and Scott was an assistant coach. When I asked Pine how that time together influenced his decision to hire Scott at Air Force, he confirmed it did. Makes sense. Aren't we all drawn to what's familiar?

“I saw what he was able to do. He took the defense at Holy Cross and completely changed — from an X's and O's standpoint — our approach," Pine said. "(He) put our young men in a position to be successful and helped us get to the NCAA Tournament, which we hadn’t been in in a while.”

OK, cool. Except for one minor issue: Scott wasn't at Holy Cross when it made the NCAA Tournament in 2016. He was still at the University of Denver. I remember, because I watched a handful of its practices. DU's just down the road from my house, and the man runs a mean practice.

Look, the chronology is right there in the Holy Cross archives:

—March 9, 2016: Men’s basketball to face Southern University in NCAA First Four

—May 23, 2016: Scott named assistant men’s basketball coach

Perhaps the AD simply misspoke, but wouldn’t a sincere coaching search have that caliber of important information seared into memory?

More likely, this search was a game of musical chairs where only one guy was allowed to sit down. Air Force last week flew five candidates into DIA for in-person interviews at the Westin Hotel. Sorry to say so, fellas, but it sure looks like they wasted your time.

Let's be clear there's nothing wrong with bringing back the most successful coach in Air Force history. That's what the 54-year-old Scott is. His first tenure at Clune Arena not only brought a super-rare NCAA Tournament berth in 2004. It also laid the groundwork for an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006 and a sweet run to the NIT Final Four in 2007. There has never been a better time to be Falcons fan.

I can't imagine a better sales pitch than, Hey, remember that one time I took a service academy to the Big Dance when it had not been there in 42 years? From a historical perspective Scott's return checks most of the boxes.

It's how we got to this point that smells fishy. 

Scott’s run since then? Ehhh. At Princeton, 15-13, 12-15, 11-17. Nine seasons at Denver, averaging 16 wins. Two seriously tough jobs, no doubt. Then the two years at Holy Cross that ended 15-17 and 12-19 (and no NCAA Tournament berths logged for posterity on the Holy Cross website). And 11-21 and 16-16 seasons as a Georgia assistant. Like I was saying, ehhh.

But win at Air Force, and no one remembers the coaching search. Scott had the 2000 blueprint. His 2020 model must include maximizing the prep school as a development tool, scheduling at least a half-dozen "buy" games for the nonconference schedule and perfecting the matchup zone that made those Falcons a nightmare to face. That Mountain West was better than this Mountain West, so that’s a plus. His Princeton-style offense is more widespread and no longer a niche or a surprise, a negative.

"One thing that I know that hasn’t changed is when you step between those lines. It’s about who’s the most competitive, who’s the toughest, who’s got the most grit, who knows who they are the most, who believes who they are the most, who executes who they are the most — that’s usually, in any sport, who wins," Scott said. "That’s the genesis of where winning comes from."

That's the plan. Win, and no one remembers the coaching search.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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