Athletic department has busy year with coaching changes
Aug. 6, 2007
Academy athletics restructures coach staff
The Air Force Academy athletic department had a very busy year. How busy? For the first time in history, the program replaced its football and men's basketball coaches in the same year. In addition, the athletic department hired three other head coaches and is in the process of one other.
Director of Athletics Dr. Hans Mueh has been at the forefront of this difficult task. Hiring head coaches for an Academy is no easy task, especially when you consider how much different the culture is compared to a civilian school. When you hear a description of Mueh's ideal candidate, you can see how difficult it can be to fine the right person.
"I look for a coach who appreciates and respects what the Air Force Academy stands for, integrity, service, and excellence -- someone who knows that cadet athletes will always give their all, no matter how overmatched they are," he said. "That coach must understand the extreme time demands on cadets and adjust coaching methods accordingly."
Hiring a head football coach is tough enough, but when the new coach is replacing a legend, it's an even more difficult task. Football coach Fisher DeBerry stepped down in 2006 after a 23-year tenure. DeBerry became the winningest coach in school history and rewrote the Academy record books during that time. He also led the Falcons to 14 of their 16 Commander-in-Chief Trophy victories over Army and Navy.
Mueh and his staff acted quickly and the result may be as good a fit as DeBerry. Troy Calhoun was hired in December and though he has yet to coach a game, he's already proved to be an excellent fit at his alma mater.
Calhoun is a 1989 Academy graduate and is just the sixth head coach in school history. The first graduate to hold the position, Calhoun brings an impressive resume with him from the collegiate and professional levels that is flooded with success at every step.
Calhoun is fresh off completing his first season with the Houston Texans as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The 2006 Texans were one of only two NFL teams to triple their number of wins from the previous year. They also were the last team to defeat the Indianapolis Colts on their way to the Super Bowl championship. On offense, the Texans had the NFL's leading receiver (Pro Bowler Andre Johnson with 103 catches), the NFL's best quarterback completion percentage (68.4 percent) and quarterback David Carr tied an NFL record against Buffalo with 22 straight completions.
Calhoun became a well-rounded NFL coach, working as a defensive assistant, special teams assistant and offensive assistant with the Denver Broncos from 2003-05. He began his NFL coaching career by serving as the defensive assistant under defensive coordinator Larry Coyer in 2003. He was a part of the NFL's fourth-ranked defense. The Broncos' defense ranked seventh against the run and sixth against the pass. Denver's defense yielded a mere 17.6 points per game as the Broncos made the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
His collegiate resume includes successful stops at Wake Forest and Ohio University as offensive coordinator. He began his coaching career at the Academy as a student, graduate assistant and military assistant.
"My goal in hiring is to find a coach who thinks of us as a destination assignment, not a stopover point," Mueh said. "That's not always possible, especially when we have success and the coaches are in demand, but we have been tremendously successful at keeping coaches as evidenced by the longevity of legendary coaches like Fisher DeBerry in football, Luis Sagastume in soccer, Wayne Baughman in wrestling, Rich Gugat in tennis, Lou Burkel in gymnastics and Eddie Weichers in boxing."
Mueh and his staff were back at it at the end of the men's basketball season. Head coach Jeff Bzdelik, a Mueh hire, raised the wildly successful program to new heights in two years. Bzdelik led the Falcons to 50 wins, an NCAA tournament and a National Invitational Tournament Final Four in his two years.
Bzdelik left the Academy for family reasons and greener pastures, forcing the Academy to attempt to hit another "home run" with the basketball staff. Mueh and his staff completed the search and rewarded Bzdelik's top assistant, Jeff Reynolds, with the "opportunity of a lifetime," as he would say at his introductory press conference.
"Jeff has a distinguished record as an assistant and head coach and has been honored at every level," said Mueh. "He has had great success as a coach at eight different Division I and II programs before coming to Air Force at Coach Bzdelik's request and was a key factor in Air Force's success as his top assistant coach."
Reynolds, 50, came to the Academy after serving as an assistant coach at Tulane for five seasons. Prior to his stint at Tulane, Reynolds served as the head coach at Division II Wingate University in Wingate, N.C.
He coached Wingate for three seasons, building the program into a Division II powerhouse. In 1999-2000, his team led the nation in scoring defense and posted an impressive 26-4 record, closing the year with a final national ranking of No. 7 and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs also won their second-consecutive South Atlantic Conference title and established the longest home-court winning streak at the Division II level (26 games).
In 1998-99, Reynolds guided Wingate to its first NCAA Tournament bid, as well as its first national ranking, and the Bulldogs closed that season with a 23-6 mark as Reynolds earned South Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year honors.
As the top assistant coach at his alma mater, UNC-Greensboro, from 1995-97, Reynolds helped the program to the 1996 Big South Championship and a bid to the 1996 NCAA Tournament. Prior to that, he served for four years as the top assistant at UNC-Wilmington, helping the Seahawks to Colonial Athletic Association Most Improved Team honors in 1992.
He logged one year as the head coach of North Carolina Wesleyan College in 1985-86, leading the program to a 21-7 mark and the Dixie Conference Championship, before moving on to Winthrop College for four years. At Winthrop, he was directly involved in the team's transition from Division II to Division I, and, in 1988, the school captured the Big South Conference Championship.
"Replacing high profile coaches like Fisher DeBerry and Jeff Bzdelik is never easy because of the enormous impact they have had on the Academy on the national scene," Mueh said. "Fisher's retirement was especially tough because he truly is a legend in the game but also because he's been a great friend for over 25 years. However, there is a time for all of us to relinquish the reins to the next generation of young, dynamic coaches with fresh ideas and energy to sustain and build the existing program. Jeff was only with us for two great years, but no one can deny what he brought to the basketball program and to the Academy during those exciting years. But here again, his successor, Jeff Reynolds, now has a chance to build on the great things Coach Bzdelik established."
These two hires bring about the most speculation and attention, but Mueh and his staff have been busy in other sports as well. The Academy has hired new head coaches in rifle, wrestling, men's soccer and women's gymnastics within the last year, as well as assistants in several other sports.
These hires didn't generate the publicity of the first two, but the individuals fall in line with Calhoun and Reynolds, as they are perfect fits for the Academy. One of them is rifle coach Launi Meili (pronounced LAW-nee MY-lee). Meili comes to the Academy from Nebraska, where she coached for five years.
Meili led the Cornhuskers to a No. 2 national ranking last season. The team finished fifth at the NCAA championships in 2007. She has coached 21 All-Americans, an NCAA individual champion and placed seven women on the U.S. Development team. In addition, Meili led Nebraska to a pair of Great American Rifle Conference championships while earning coach of the year honors in 2006.
"Coach Meili brings a wealth of experience as not only a proven NCAA Division I head coach, but a world-class competitor as well," said Deputy Director of Athletics Col. Billy Walker, who oversees many of the Olympic sports. "We were very impressed with her understanding of the Academy and our mission to produce leaders of character and how intercollegiate athletics contributes to that mission. I'm quite certain Coach Meili will develop us into one of the elite programs in the country."
As a shooting competitor, Meili shot for the U.S. Shooting team for 10 years. In that time, Meili participated in two Olympic Games, two Pan American games and a World Championship. During her career, she produced three world records, three Olympic records, a world team championship and the Olympic Gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, becoming the only American woman to ever win gold in smallbore.
She also placed 11th in air rifle in Barcelona after finishing sixth in air rifle and seventh in three-position rifle at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She remains the only woman to compete in both events at two Olympics. Meili is also a seven-time national champion in three-position rifle, setting three world shooting records and numerous national records in her outstanding shooting career.
After retiring from competitive shooting in 1992, Meili spent 10 years coaching junior and elite level shooters and instructing athletes at shooting clinics and camps nationwide. She served as assistant coach for the U.S. National Rifle Team from 1997 to 2000 and is a member of the USA Shooting Board of Directors. Meili also created the International Coach Certification Program, the highest level of coaching credential recognized by USA Shooting and the National Rifle Association. During the 2004-05 season, Meili was recognized for her outstanding achievement to the sport by being inducted into the International Shooting Hall of Fame.
Wrestling head coach Joel Sharratt and women's gymnastics head coach Doug Day just completed their first years at the Academy. New men's soccer coach, Doug Hill, was a long-time assistant under Lou Sagastume and will enter his first season this fall. Sharratt, who replaced the long-tenured and highly-successful Wayne Baughman upon his retirement, came to the Academy after spending six seasons as the top assistant wrestling coach at Navy. In 2005-06, Sharratt helped lead the Midshipmen to a 13-2 dual record, its best win total since the 1990-91 season, while also sending five wrestlers to the NCAA Championships. Sharratt was also a tenured assistant professor at the Naval Academy, teaching physical education courses in wrestling, martial arts, judo and hand-to-hand combat, while additionally serving as the faculty chair of the USNA combative courses.
A 1995 graduate of the University of Iowa, Sharratt was a three-time All-American, earning three trips to the NCAA Finals, winning the championship in 1994. Training under the tutelage of legendary coach Dan Gable during his college career, Sharratt was a four-year letterwinner for the Hawkeyes, and was twice selected as the team captain. Sharratt led his team to the 1995 Big Ten and NCAA titles, winning the Big Ten individual championship that season. Sharratt also competed as a member of the 1993 Big Ten and NCAA Championship teams and the 1994 Big Ten Championship team. "My goals for the Air Force wrestling program are for every athlete to graduate and be commissioned as an Air Force officer, for our wrestlers to be leaders in the Cadet Wing and for each individual to reach his full potential on the mat," said Sharratt, who also had stints as an assistant coach at the University of Iowa, Lehigh University and the University of Minnesota ."
"Coach Sharratt brings a level of enthusiasm, excitement and intensity to our program that translates perfectly into our wrestling room. We anticipate Air Force wrestling to be very competitive nationally under Joel's leadership," stated Walker.
Prior to his appointment at the Academy, Day served as the team manager at TAGS Gymnastics in Eden Prairie, Minn. While at TAGS, he oversaw the design and implementation of team practices and facility issues for over 4,000 gymnasts and 68 employees.
Day spent nine years (1997-2006) as the assistant coach for the women's gymnastics program at the University of Minnesota. During his time with the Golden Gophers, the team won two Big Ten team titles (1998, 2006) and made one team appearance at the NCAA Championships (2002). In addition, five Gophers won individual conference titles, two were named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, two earned regional championship titles, two claimed All-America honors and four individually qualified for the NCAA Championships. In addition, Minnesota accounted for 62 Academic All-Big Ten citations.
Before joining the Minnesota program, Day served as the assistant men's gymnastics coach at the University of New Mexico from 1986-97. While with the Lobos, he coached 10 individual national champions, 21 All-Americans and 36 individual conference champions, while helping New Mexico to five Western Athletic Conference team titles. He also taught physical education courses at UNM. In January 1997, Day was inducted into the University of New Mexico Gymnastics Hall of Fame for his contributions as an athlete and as a coach with the men's gymnastics team.
While at the collegiate level, Day claimed two NCAA National Assistant Coach of the Year awards, becoming the first coach to earn that distinction for both a men's and women's team. Day first earned the honor while on the men's coaching staff at New Mexico in 1995. In 2002, he received that distinction with the Minnesota women's program. In addition, Day earned two Regional Assistant Coach of the Year honors while with the Golden Gophers (2001, 2006).
Athletes trained by Day have competed in the Olympic Games (1988, 1992), the World Gymnastics Championships (1979, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1999) and the USA McDonald's American Cup. Day served as coach for the United States at the 1989 Golden Sands Invitational in Varna, Bulgaria, and at the 1994-95 Blanc Mesnil Invitational in Paris, France. He also served as an assistant coach for Slovenia at the 1999 World Gymnastics Championships in Tianjin, China.
Hill takes over the men's soccer program this fall after spending 13 seasons as an assistant. He was the associate head coach last season. Hill is a 1983 USAFA graduate and was a four-year letterwinner under Sagastume. He was chosen as the team captain both his junior and senior seasons. The native of Fleetwood, Pa., played on the all-Air Force soccer team in 1985 and 1987 and coached the all-Armed Services team in 1999 and 2000. Hill retired from the Air Force in 2006 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. A navigator with over 2,800 flying hours, Hill holds a master's degree in sports administration from the University of Northern Colorado. Along with his coaching experience at the Academy, Hill also assisted and served as the interim head soccer coach for the men's and women's soccer teams at Hardin Simmons University (Texas) from 1986-88 while he was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base. In 1988, he led the women's team to the NAIA Final Four and finished second in the nation.
Two very impressive assistant coaches have been brought on board this year as well. Olympic Silver Medalist Brett McClure was hired as the assistant men's gymnastics coach to complement fellow Olympian Kip Simons who was hired as the head men's coach only two seasons ago. Additionally, Bart Horton has been tagged to be the new assistant wrestling coach. Horton comes to Air Force after nine years as the No. 1 assistant at the University of Missouri where he helped bring Mizzou from relative wrestling obscurity to a third-place finish in the 2007 NCAA Championships.
"We're very excited about the direction of our Olympic sport programs," commented Walker. "It was a daunting task to replace the legendary coaches who poured their hearts and souls into our programs for decades, but we feel extremely fortunate with the quality coaches we've been able to hire. They'll carry on our tremendous legacy--the future is exciting indeed."
The work continues, as the Academy is in search of a head coach of a men's and women's cross country coach to replace highly-successful Mark Stanforth. As difficult as Stanforth will be to replace, it's that type of challenge that excites Mueh.
"It's a great honor to be at this great institution and work with the great people we have here," Mueh said. "Our cadets deserve the best and we continue to work hard to give them just that. It's exciting to talk to prospective coaches and tell them about all we have to offer here. You may not become rich in terms of money coaching at the Academy, but your riches will be felt every afternoon when you work with our young people." When you see Mueh's excitement it's easy to see why he's done such an amazing job of reshaping the coaching staff at the Academy and why the Academy has bright days ahead.