Tomorrow, Air Force and Navy will be in the familiar position of playing for an advantage in the race for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy. But this year, an unfamiliar face will be seen roaming the Falcons‘ sideline: their coach.
Longtime Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, who had been with the academy for 23 years, retired in December following three straight losing seasons. A week later, Troy Calhoun took the job, bringing with him four years of NFL coaching experience with the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans.
DeBerry left behind a winning tradition at Air Force. The Falcons had a winning record in 17 seasons, including a 12-1 season and Mountain West Conference championship in 1998. He has the most wins as a coach in service academy football history. His all-time record against Army and Navy combined is 35-11, highlighted by the 14 Commander-in-Chief’s trophy titles Air Force won during his tenure.
Calhoun takes over a program that has a four-year losing streak to Navy, which has captured the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy each of those seasons. The last time Air Force took home the coveted trophy was 2002.
Although this is Calhoun’s first year as coach, as a 1989 graduate of Air Force, he is well aware of the implications of tomorrow’s game.
“I think any time there’s a service academy game it’s a special game, and there’s a lift in terms of the energy level of your guys, the players and coaches,” Calhoun said. “And for the graduates, there is the tradition of going to a service academy.”
Calhoun will not be the only new coach on the Air Force sideline tomorrow. Most of his coaching staff is either new or in a different position than under DeBerry, including co-offensive coordinators Blane Morgan and Clay Hendrix. However, they are not unfamiliar with the academy. Ten of the staff’s 14 members either played or previously coached at Air Force, including defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who also spent three seasons as a coach at Navy.
During DeBerry’s tenure as coach, Air Force featured the triple-option offense, similar to the one Navy runs under coach Paul Johnson.
This year, Calhoun and his staff have made some changes to the Falcons’ playbook, which is now more diverse. After scouting the Falcons, Johnson said he noticed the changes, but they are not drastic.
“I don’t think they are that different,” Johnson said. “Offensively, they run a lot of formations. Defensively, they are still running the 3-4. They are little bit more aggressive with their zone fires. So they are similar. There’s not going to be a big change.”
The running game is still the focal point of the Air Force attack. Among Division I-A teams, the Falcons rank tied for 21st in rushing offense with 223 yards a game and 114th in passing offense with 130.8 yards a game.
Senior quarterback Shaun Carney leads the Air Force attack, compiling an average of 164 yards passing and rushing a game. Senior tailback Jim Ollis is the team’s leading rusher with 205 yards and a superb 6.4 yards a carry.
“They still run the option,” Johnson said. “They run all kinds. They still run some triple. They don’t run as much read option as they have. They run certain options out of certain formations.”
The Falcons started the year with victories over South Carolina State, Utah and TCU before losing to BYU last week. Calhoun said he does not put stock in the Falcons’ fast start as much as he is concerned about the way his team finishes the season.
“We’ve got a good group of football players,” Calhoun said. “I like the work ethic of our guys, I like the spirit of our guys and I like the competitiveness with which they play.”