Compared to only a few months ago, the outlook for sports is completely different. Will we even have college football come Labor Day weekend? Kirk Herbstreit doesn’t seem to think so.
What’s really interesting about this situation is that as much as the country is on hold, and largely the world as well, things are still moving. Personally, I was surprised that the men’s basketball team has been able to make so much progress in rebuilding its coaching staff. I believe that speaks to the professionalism that Nathan Pine has taken in his role as the Air Force Academy’s athletic director.
In a lot of ways, that gives me a strong sense of hope for the 2020 football season, assuming it actually happens.
Troy Calhoun is Here to Stay
After some drama regarding Coach Calhoun being courted for the Colorado head coaching job, Falcon nation was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief when it was announced that Coach Calhoun’s contract would be extended to 2025.
Troy Calhoun’s seasons seem to operate to the extremes - 2-13 in 2013 to 10-3 and a Idaho Potato Bowl win in 2014. Flash forward a few years and Air Force went 5-7 in 2017 and 2018, only to have a historic 11-2 season in 2019 with a Cheez-It bowl win over Washington State.
These records don’t really tell the full story, though. Throughout the years Troy Calhoun has coached under vastly different types of Academy leadership. Some superintendents and athletic directors have had unwavering support of football, and others have let intercollegiate sports take a back seat to the overall mission of the athletic department as is pertains to development for Air Force service.
NCAA athletics are unrelenting, though. While Air Force has ebbs and flows when it comes to support behind football’s success, other big time schools see football as the lifeblood of their application drive and financial success. Since Air Force doesn’t rely on football in the same manner as other schools do, success is a conscious decision by the leadership to give Troy Calhoun the tools he needs to recruit and coach winning teams.
The Revolving Door
Success at a school like Air Force can be a fickle beast. On one hand, the success itself is great, but on the other, national attention means that coaches get new job offers. Defensive backs coach Chip Vaughn moved on to the New York Jets, tight ends coach Jonathan Wallace moved on to Kansas, and long-time linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden retired.
Bringing in talented coaches means that they will have a natural desire to keep moving on up. Yet, the success and evidence of having Air Force as a viable stepping stone to Power Five and NFL jobs means that the Falcons should be able to bring in even more talented coaches.
The biggest hire comes with Jonathan Himebauch as the new tight ends coach. He comes from he XFL and has tons of experience in a dynamic array of coaching environments. If coach Himebauch is any indication of the caliber of coaches Troy Calhoun and Nathan Pine plan on bringing in, the sky is truly the limit.
A Solid Group of Returners
After a season like 2019’s, it’s understandable to think that similar results might not be sustainable. Yet, Air Force is returning a wrecking crew of big time players. Mo Fifita, Kyle Johnson, Zane Lewis, and many, many others will be sorely missed, but DJ Hammond, Tre Bugg, Kade Remsberg, and Parker Ferguson are experienced returners who are slated for a big season.
Another player, who I’ve personally been excited about since hearing that he turned down offers from Alabama, UCLA, Washington, Oregon State, and Arizona to come to Air Force, is rising sophomore tight end, Kyle Patterson.
At 6’5” and 235, he’s got to be the potential to be a phenomenal blocker, but he could also open up the Falcon’s passing game with a new target for DJ Hammond.
We really don’t know what’s going to happen with the 2020 football season. Hopefully business will carry on as usual and Air Force will return for another great year. They seemingly have the tools and backing to do so. We’re still many months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about football.