Q&A: Coach Troy Calhoun on Air Force Football

The successful head coach talks about this season, the larger challenges and rewards of coaching Air Force football, and reclaiming the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

With a win over Army, the Air Force Falcons secured bowl eligibility for the ninth time in 10 seasons under coach Troy Calhoun. We talked with Calhoun about this season, the overall challenges and rewards of coaching Air Force football, and the reclaiming of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

Springs: This season’s been kind of up and down—you started 4-0, then struggled a bit and are now back to two more wins (6-3 overall). Run through how that’s been.

Troy Calhoun: It hasn’t been [up and down] at all; it’s been just a steady push. I think any time you have really tremendous workers, just in terms of the consistency that they bring and the discipline that’s involved with their commitment, then you’re able to make some small improvements, and we’ve been able to make a good number of [those] throughout the year. But you can only do that day by day, and I think the maturity of this group certainly shines through in that regard.

davern runs up middle air force football
Running back Shayne Davern carries up the middle against Michigan State. Photo by Raj Mehta.

What does it do for you as a coach to have hard workers who have chosen to be there?

It’s the ultimate challenge in all of team ball sports, I think, to coach at the Air Force Academy. The obstacles that come about, the difficulties, the inherent sometimes gaps that are involved. Yet when it comes to work ethic and teaching what it means truly to be a part of a team, how to grow as a person, especially when it’s the character and the leadership aspect and to be an achiever for life—a good contributor with great humility and finding ways to serve within your communities and certainly for your country—that’s a push. Ten years from now, I think the results will be really the ones that are most important to bear.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of being head coach at the Air Force Academy?

I think the most difficult hands down comes to the recruiting, the variation and underpinnings that are involved with the Air Force Academy in relation to maybe some of the universities that you face. The strength, of course, is to see the amazing transformation that occurs from a high quality, really terrific 17- or 18-year-old kid, and five years later when they’re 22, 23 years old, the way they really are quite well-prepared and equipped to be fine leaders, leaders of character for our country.

troy calhoun and other coaches on sideline air force football
Photo by Air Force/Liz Copan.

Can you put winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in perspective as far as what it means to the players and for you as a coach?

More than anything else, it’s the mutual respect that’s involved in those games, the regard that you have for the young men and young women that have chosen to sacrifice and attend each one of the institutions and ultimately to go serve on active duty. And what’s amazing is how many of the participants in that game on both sides, at some point, either in their careers or their lives, end up coming right back to Colorado Springs, whether it’s to serve at Peterson or Fort Carson or to reside here in the Pikes Peak region.

What’s new or different about this team from past seasons?

Each [team] has its own unique identity, and I think this one, it’s just an absolutely amazing improvement that they’ve made since they’ve been here.

What kinds of improvement?

In a variety of ways, I think you grasp the kind of commitment that’s necessary to be involved in a competitive program—physically, the improvement and development that has to be made in the weight room and most certainly in terms of understanding a defense or an offense and the skill level, in the way that you have to continually raise your talents.

Can you talk about standouts Weston Steelhammer (safety) and Jalen Robinette (wide receiver)? [Editor’s note: Both players are on the Senior Bowl watch list.]

Both Wes and Jalen in their own way really have made amazing growth and improvement since they’ve been here. They were guys that determined to be Division 1 football players. When they’re able to attain that benchmark, they said “No, I’d like to see if maybe I can be a starter in a Division 1 program.” And they just keep getting better and better.

What is it like to see your team come along under your program?

The real outcome and result that matters is how well our guys serve on active duty and how well they contribute to their families and certainly their communities later in life. So what happens on one Saturday—if you won a game in New York, or you won a game in Colorado, or you lose a game—there’s going to be a bigger picture that’s involved well down the road. But hopefully we can teach them some valuable lessons and some things that certainly help them and go so far beyond football.

Air Force Falcons’ Remaining 2016 Season

Nov. 12 vs. Colorado State

Nov. 19 at San Jose State

Nov. 25 vs. Boise State

More info: goairforcefalcons.com

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