Air Force football coaching job one of three toughest in FBS

    The following story was done by SB Nation and discusses the difficulty in coaching at a service academy. SB Nation feels that the three service academy jobs are the most difficult in the FBS.

    Air Force, Army, Navy head coaches explain football's 3 hardest jobs

    By Kevin Trahan, May 21 2014, 9:00a 19

    America's service academies face tough recruiting restrictions and still find success on the football field. SB Nation talked to head coaches Ken Niumatalolo, Troy Calhoun, and Jeff Monken about adapting and contending anyway.

    In April, when the NCAA changed its policy to allow for unlimited meals, college coaches championed it as a success for student-athletes and as a potential benefit in recruiting. But for Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, it was just another reminder of what he's up against.

    "That doesn't pertain to us," he said of the new rules.

    Calhoun isn't bitter about the rule change. He knows it benefits athletes at most schools and that it's necessary in a world more focused on player welfare. And he knew in 2007, when he took the Air Force Academy job, that he was signing up for one of the three toughest jobs in college football.

    At no other major football schools are recruits agreeing to active military service when they sign to play football. At the academies, physical training mandatory for a degree gets in the way of physical training for football. And that's for the players who meet the height and weight requirements for entry.

    With these restrictions, among many others, it's a shock that America's service academies can win any games in the top subdivision of Division I. Because to win games, you have to recruit good players. And finding good players with those restrictions is improbable, at best.

    How do service academies recruit?

    I posed that broad question to Calhoun, and his answer started out simply enough: "I don't think our process is different than anywhere else," he said.

    On the surface, that's true. Calhoun and the coaches at Army and Navy go out in search of the best football players in the country to come to their schools, just like the coaches at every other Division I program. But it comes with a caveat: "just, the filters that are involved are a lot stronger."

    Just a few of those filters:

    Academics. At Air Force, prospective players need to have at least a 3.5 high school GPA, a 25 on the ACT in all subjects, and a minimum of a 1200 two-part SAT score. Requirements are similarly rigorous at the other service academies. Lt. Col. Gaylord Greene, who works in admissions at Army, said coaches will often encourage recruits to take more core courses, since the school requires more of them for entry than most others do.

    Height and weight requirements. They differ slightly by academy, but at Air Force, a 6'4 applicant cannot weigh more than 221 pounds for admission -- and must also not weigh more than that upon graduation. This makes recruiting offensive linemen very difficult. "I'd love to have a bunch of 320-pound guys with good feet," Calhoun said. "We've never had a 285-pound kid, which is very small for a Division I offensive lineman. We usually average 255 pounds with our offensive line."

    Mandatory military service. Unlike players who sign a normal scholarship tender, athletes at the service academies sign on to serve in active military duty after college. As expected, that "is a turnoff for a lot of kids," according to new Army head coach Jeff Monken.

    Apply the academic filter, and suddenly the pool of prospects shrinks. The academies are forced to recruit similar kids as Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, and the Ivy League schools, yet none of those schools have to also worry about the additional filters of weight limits and mandatory military service.

    Opposing linemen regularly outweigh the academies' by 50 pounds or more. Scott Cunningham, Getty

    The result is a national recruiting plan.

    "I bet out of our two-deep, we might only have two that are even from this time zone," Calhoun said. "Which, that is really absurd."

    That sounds really nice: "we recruit nationally." After all, that's what powerhouses like Notre Dame pride themselves on. However, Notre Dame recruits nationally because its name has enough cachet to pull players from anywhere; the Irish don't have to just stick with the players in the Midwest. The academies recruit nationally out of necessity, because they could barely fill out a team if they recruited their geographic regions.

    Even with a national recruiting plan, the academies rarely beat out major-conference teams for players. And as Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo pointed out, even many lower-level FBS players think they can go to the NFL. Whether that's true or not, it cuts the service academies out of the picture for those players as well. So they tend to recruit against each other, FCS schools, and maybe a MAC school every once in awhile.

    Monken arrived at Army from FCS Georgia Southern this year, and even though he jumped up a division, it might be tougher to get players now.

    "I think the service academies are the most difficult places to recruit to in the nation," he said.

    THE ACADEMIES ARE THE MOST DIFFICULT PLACES TO RECRUIT TO IN THE NATION.

    ARMY HEAD COACH JEFF MONKEN The recruiting rankings back that up. According to 247 Sports, Air Force was the top-ranked service academy in 2014, finishing 109th nationally. Army and Navy were 121st and 129th, respectively, finishing among a group of FCS and low-level FBS schools. Only 10 of their collective 58 commits received three-star ratings. Star ratings matter for football success, so the coaches at service academies need to be creative in their recruiting approaches.

    Since there is so much information in recruiting these days, the academies can't really rely on fellow coaches to miss ready-made prospects. Instead, they take chances on players they hope to develop.

    Niumatalolo said his staff will look to identify undersized offensive linemen, corners with 4.6-second 40-yard dash times, and small defensive linemen who could turn into linebackers. It's an exhausting process, but if coaches look hard enough, they can find enough players who fit the very specific profiles. Once they find those players and get them to campus for official visits, Niumatalolo claims 90 percent of them end up committing.

    "Since we recruit all 50 states," he said, "I believe there are enough student-athletes out there that have good grades that are willing to serve their country after."

    Adapting to the recruiting filters

    The physical requirements at the service academies dictate their on-field style. All three are known for running option offenses. Navy, in particular, has become famous for perfecting the flexbone triple option. Former Navy coach Paul Johnson brought it to Georgia Tech with some success, with Monken a former assistant.

    Because the academies can't have big offensive lines, they rely on athletic linemen and option misdirection to create running lanes and open up the field. The Midshipmen won a game in 2011 without completing a pass, as did Monken's GSU against Florida in 2013. In the past six years, all three academies have ranked in the FBS top four in rushing attempts per game, along with Georgia Tech.