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Football: Calhoun brings success back to alma mater

Chris Khorey | Friday, November 9, 2007

It’s not easy to replace a legend.

But that’s exactly what Troy Calhoun is attempting to do after replacing Fisher DeBerry as head football coach at the Air Force Academy. DeBerry coached the Falcons for 23 seasons, amassing a 169-107-1 record and winning 14 Commander-In-Chief Trophies.

But after three straight years with at least seven losses, the winningest coach in service academy history retired and the Academy hired one of its own to replace him.

Calhoun, a 1989 Air Force graduate, is the first alumnus to ever coach the Falcons – and in his first season, he has already reversed the team’s fortunes. Air Force is 7-3 this season and already has its most wins in a season since 2003.

The Falcons still run the option, as they did under DeBerry, but Calhoun has opened up the offense, using his experience at his last job – offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans.

Air Force has increased its passing output by 20 yards per game and its total offense by nearly 70 yards this year.

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said he has been impressed by how the Falcons have used formations to confuse defenses this year.

“With one personnel group, for example, they have three different formations to run an option,” he said.

One player who has benefited from Calhoun’s new offense is wide receiver Chad Hall. Hall is Air Force’s leading rusher and receiver this year with 112 yards on the ground per game and 46 through the air.

“They’re finding more ways to get the ball in his hands,” Weis said. “Last year, he was primarily just a running back that would get the ball. Now they’re using him there, and a lot of times he’s at wide receiver.”

But even with the new wrinkles, Calhoun’s play calling still respects Air Force tradition. The Falcons average nearly 300 yards on the ground per game.

“They have a lot of confidence in their running game,” Weis said.

On the other side of the ball, Calhoun and new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter have completely overhauled the Falcons defensive plan. Air Force switched to a 3-4 scheme this year and have been much more aggressive.

“Last year they weren’t using this 3-4 scheme,” Weis said. “They’ve turned into a big blitz team, which wasn’t really the case last year.”

Air Force is not on any future Notre Dame schedules, but Calhoun said he would like to see the series continue during his tenure in Colorado Springs.

“I think this game’s a natural for us,” he said. “We need to go out and play schools that are completely committed to educating young people.”

The problem, Calhoun said, is fitting the Irish into the Falcon’s schedule, which already includes commitments to play eight Mountain West Conference games as well as Army and Navy.

“At the Air Force Academy, we have only two games a year that we get to choose,” he said. “The other ten are all set for us.”

This year, the Falcons used those slots to play South Carolina State and make the trip to South Bend – the first time Air Force has visited Notre Dame Stadium since 2000.

Calhoun said his players won’t be intimidated by their first trip to Notre Dame.

“It’s a great place, but it’s one of those places where you get there and you realize its five yards between each of the solid lines,” he said.

Calhoun said the reason his players won’t be intimidated is one that attracted him to the Academy in the first place.

“These are guys that no place is too big for them and no place are they above,” Calhoun said. “That’s the character of the young men and women of the Air Force Academy.”