To explain, I had assumed that the most important part of his job was to win games. Needless to say, in Calhoun's eyes, that was an incorrect assumption.
"Your number one obligation is to make sure that when your guys graduate from here that leadership wise that they are well equipped to be officers and to serve as leaders in whatever capacity that may be down the road," said Calhoun.
"Every step you take here as a coach, that is your job, and a part of it is learning how to win. The young men and young women who are here are going to encounter or could very well encounter battles where, I won't say it's an absolute necessity that they win, but it may very well be."
Now I'm not sure if he had been asked about the priorities of the head coach of Air Force a dozen times already or if he had heard his predecessor, Fisher DeBerry answer that question a thousand times, but irregardless, I couldn't help but be impressed with his statement. I'm not sure it will get him a five-year extension if he fails to turn the program around, but it should get him some points with the Air Force hierarchy.
Calhoun will also get some major points from Air Force fans based on our back-and-forth regarding his future at the Academy. Here is how that part of the interview transpired:
GOMIDS: Due to the success of Air Force's basketball program, it has become somewhat of a revolving door for its head coaches. What message would you like to send to Air Force cadets and fans who are worried that if you achieve a similar type of success that you too may be lured away from Colorado Springs?
CALHOUN: Well, let me ask you this David, do you have some affinity for your school?
CALHOUN: Do you think it's a pretty special place?
GOMIDS: I do.
CALHOUN: Do you think it's one, in a lot of ways, not that it's above any other place might be, extremely unique and special in its own way?
GOMIDS: Sure, but I'm also lured like any other person by the almighty dollar. At Navy alone, Coach Johnson has had some great success and every November and December, Navy fans cross their fingers and say (to other schools) please don't take him away. Looking at the (transition) with the Air Force basketball team I think if you do have success there will be a lot of worried fans…what can you say to reassure them that this is not only your alma mater but you are more of a Fisher DeBerry type, than maybe a basketball coach who used (the Academy) as a springboard?
CALHOUN: I think no two people are the same. What motivates one person might not necessarily drive somebody else. I'll say this – I see extraordinary value in coaching at the Air Force Academy and it goes more to just the price tag. A negotiator would tell me that I am ridiculous and to never be overt about it but at the same time that's my heart. I think deep down, there is no way I could possibly repay the Academy for what's it has done for me on a personal level. I was raised in a home where both of us graduated from an Academy. It's a phenomenal place. That's part of the value you get out of coaching here. You interact with a very special young person. Does that mean its absolute, no…but by in large that's certainly the case. It's moving to no end to be a part of the Air Force Academy.
All of my writing critics will probably react by telling me, what did you expect him to say? To which I would reply, he could have given a ton of different vague answers which would leave fans guessing about his long-term commitment to the Falcons. Calhoun did slip in a clause by saying that his loyalty to his alma mater shouldn't be misinterpreted as an "absolute," but I got the impression if he wins, he'll be around for awhile. And in this day in age of the bigger Division I schools throwing millions of dollars towards successful head coaches from so-called lower-tiered programs, his remarks are a breath of fresh air.
I realize Calhoun hasn't won a game yet as a head coach, but so far he's winning this interview…heck he even turned the tables and started asking me questions. So I needed to get back to those off-the-field questions. Is he getting the support he needs?
"To me there is only one thing you gotta look at in terms of what is fluid here…that is the two non-conference games you play. That's an important aspect. But facility wise, this isn't a place that is about things…it's about people. Having gone to school here, having coached here…I'm just not moved by the size of the building and I definitely know that the cadets here aren't either. It might be applicable at another university but certainly not here," said Calhoun.
However, Calhoun does believe that graduates play an important role in developing a winning culture at any school.
"(I think) it helps morale when you are successful, yet a key part of it is finding out the kind of passion and support that graduates have for the Air Force Academy. I always think there are a couple of indicators…as far as attendance in general (and the) spirit that is prevalent…you look and see how many graduates are members of the AOG (the Association of Graduates), and how members directly contribute to FAAA (Air Force Academy Athletic Association). And those are pretty good indicators in terms of the kind of pride that our graduates have in this institution."
According to Calhoun, Navy has done a good job in that area saying, "(You have to give) credit to their graduates. They've done a tremendous job of backing not just football but a bunch of the programs that are there in Annapolis."
Speaking of Navy, I wanted to know what Calhoun thought of the Mids' recent run of success. Has Navy been able to do something during the last four years to put themselves ahead of Air Force in terms of the football program as a whole?
"That would probably be one of those (scenarios) until you really get into a season, until you get a full experience, I don't think you can completely know. At this stage, it might be some wild assumptions. In time that may be something you could answer a little bit better."
Ok, but did he think beating Navy again could be a way to kick-start the program?
"A way, but I don't think it is the way. You play 12 games and for us the thing we want to do is be extremely competitive in our conference, which to do so that's over a little longer haul – an eight game stretch - and you want to play well in the service academy games too," said Calhoun. "I can't say any one game is more important than the other. It's pretty meaningful when you get a chance to line-up and play against BYU or when you go up the road and play Colorado State or when you play Navy or Army. All of those are key games in which you want to play really well."
Ok, but did he think that Navy had become the power of service academy football?
Calhoun responded, "Certainly you want to be competitive. You want your side to have more points than the other side does. They've been quite strong amongst the service academies especially over the last four years. Do we want to perform better in that regard? Absolutely."
He continued by saying, "I've always thought it's pretty neat when Air Force wins…when Navy wins…when Army wins. For what each one of those young men and women are going to do at those schools, those are the youngsters who are going to go out and serve our country. On the football part of it…you want to play well every single week no matter who you play against. But you look at it with some pride, as an American, to see those schools do well."
I got off the Navy line of questioning towards the end of the interview and decided to ask two questions I thought not only service academy fans, but NFL fans as well would be interested in knowing his answer to. First, I asked what he thought about Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney's comments prior to last year's Army game.
For those who do not remember, Carney made a bold and public prediction that Air Force would beat the Black Knights by a score of 49-7. The Falcons came close, winning 43-7. In interviews after the game, Carney said that he was just trying to fire the team up with his prediction. What did Calhoun make of it?
"You want to make sure that people can freely interact. Now is there some responsibility there in the way you conduct yourself? Sure. Not only academy wise but class wise. You visit with your players about interacting with media and yet a lot of times it's probably blown up a little bit more than it probably is (in reality.) I think deep down at an academy when Air Force plays Army, I don't think Army's guys really get into the newspaper and I don't think Air Force's guys do either. These are guys who not just maturity wise, (but in other ways) operate at a different level. They don't see what is written in a newspaper as being complete Gospel and I'd like to think here your dealing with more than just somebody who is just 19-years-old on their birth certificate."
Finally, with the NFL draft coming up, I had to ask the former offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans about the decision by his former team to pass on Reggie Bush last year. Did he ever say to himself, I had some plays in mind for him?
"That part would have been fun. That part would have been a kick in the pants. I would have loved to see what we could have done with him, and yet there are some things that involve a chain of command. In that role (as offensive coordinator) it is a little bit like being an officer…your in (their) sight, but ultimately what the chain of command chooses to do, you're following suit and here you go. At that point your job is to make the most of what you have."
All right, I had one last question and it was this: If Coach Calhoun could categorize the Navy-Air Force rivalry in one word, what would it be?
His response was immediate and direct.
"Respect," he said.