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AFM Subscribers Ask...with Troy Calhoun

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Under first year coach Troy Calhoun, the Air Force Academy finished the 2007 regular season with a 9-3 record. The Falcons had a five-game turnaround from 2006 (4-8) and it was the second largest in nearly fifty years. Air Force had entered 2007 coming off three straight losing seasons.

Calhoun was hired from the Houston Texans where he was their Offensive Coordinator. A 1989 AFA graduate, Calhoun led the Falcons to the most wins ever by a first year head coach. After his military commitment, Calhoun began his coaching career at the Academy and then coached at Ohio University, Wake Forest, and then the Denver Broncos (2003-2005). He went to the Texans for the 2006 season.

Calhoun was named Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year for 2007. He continued the famous option offense that Fisher DeBerry preached for 23 years as head coach, but blended it with parts of the West Coast offense. The Falcons averaged nearly 300 yards rushing per game, second in the nation, and will be playing in their first bowl game in five years. Coach Calhoun answers your questions…

How difficult was the transition from being the OC of an NFL team to becoming the head coach of a major college program? What was critical for you in making the move? George Pomey, Assistant Coach, Valley Christian High School (CA). AFM subscriber since 2006.

I think the first thing was the affinity I have for the Air Force Academy. Having both played and coached here before, it’s a very special place. Each school and situation has its own set of specific circumstances. The Air Force Academy is a very unique place in its own right. It was also a very challenging set of circumstances that appealed to me.

The AFA had been running the option. What was the process where you began to mesh parts of the option with the shotgun offense? Did you install parts of this offense because of the talent level of your players? Steve Rodriguez, Assistant Coach, Union High School (NJ). AFM subscriber since 2005.

When we made a complete transformation of the running game to a zone running team, it was done to move the tailback more and take some of the pressure off of the quarterback. We’re now a zone running team whether we’re in our option offense or some variation of the shotgun. This came out of my years with both the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. It helps us because we’re not very big. We probably have one of the lightest offensive lines of all 119 colleges in Division I-A (now the Football Bowl Subdivision). Our heaviest player is about 280 and most of the rest of the linemen are in the 260-265 range. We also don’t have a home run hitter with real explosive speed. All of that coupled with the Academy’s demands on the students – they take 20 semester hours on a regular basis and have military leadership responsibilities – makes the Air Force Academy a challenging situation.

For the offense that you run, do the blocking assignments change when you go to a different offense other than the option? How difficult is it for the players to adjust? Robert Smith, Assistant Coach, Marian High School (IL). AFM subscriber since 2007.

It was a significant change – maybe not 180 degrees but close to it – and it took some time. It certainly was a major change on the front side as our players learned their assignments.

Watching your team this year, I noticed how effective the short pass game was out of the Shotgun? What made it so effective? Howard Knox, Assistant Coach, Hamilton High School (AL). AFM subscriber since 2007.

To be effective we changed a number of our key routes week-to-week. We also tried to disguise a number of routes and mixed motion with them. We also didn’t mess with our protection schemes with the short passing game. I think the team got better and better in protection as the season went along. We actually improved dramatically in the second half of the season in giving up sacks. For the first six games of the season we gave up nine sacks but only gave up four during the last six games. We actually finished ninth in the category ‘Sacks Allowed.’

After playing for the Academy in the mid 80’s and coaching at various levels in the 90’s and today, have defenses changed over that period of time? What have been the defensive trends over the last decade? Bob Holley, Defensive Coordinator, Clayton High School (OK). AFM subscriber since 2007.

The things that jump out at me are: 1) In the league we were in 20 years ago we were playing the same schools – BYU, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado State. 2) Twenty years ago compared to today there’s much more size now, considerably more speed and quickness and the caliber of coaching is outstanding. You see a lot of outstanding defenses in our conference and many defense-oriented schools. The size and quickness have made the field itself a little smaller.

In terms of trends, there’s probably more utilization of quarters coverage and more man coverage as well. We went from the 3-3-5 defense to the 3-4 which we feel is more effective. The 3-4 can create problems for offenses, creates versatility for you and helps create mismatches. San Diego and Pittsburgh are very successful with this defense. First and foremost, you must have good players. The big key to this defense is pressure and the edge threat. We try to disguise some of our looks and defenses; as a whole defenses are so much more active and aggressive today. With this defense I like the threat of an outside linebacker raising some havoc in the backfield.


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