Air Force reveals promotion of coach halfway through football season

Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun leads the football team out of the tunnel prior to a game against the Nevada Wolfpack on Sept. 29, 2018 at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: October 17, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — Air Force has finally acknowledged John Rudzinski’s promotion to defensive coordinator.

The (quiet) announcement comes halfway through the season, with the reveal being made with Rudzinski’s new job title listed next to his name in the weekly game notes released on Monday morning.

The unorthodox approach to filling the vacancy created when Steve Russ left for the Carolina Panthers became national news over the summer, with coach Troy Calhoun never offering an explanation as to why he would keep secret such a standard move.

“It’s just when we did it,” coach Troy Calhoun said Monday, when asked — now that it was made known — to explain the thinking behind the long delay.

Under Rudzinski, a 2005 Air Force graduate who had previously been a position coach with the defensive backs (a role he still fills in addition to coordinator), the Falcons (2-4) rank eighth nationally and second in the Mountain West in rushing defense (101.2 yards per game). This comes a year after finishing last in the nation in yards allowed per rushing attempt.

The defense has allowed just 28 points over the past 10 quarters (San Diego State also had a score on special teams) ranks 37th nationally in scoring defense and total defense.

“I think guys on that side of the ball have done a really, really good job,” Calhoun said. “Just in terms of the organization, in terms of technically putting a system together. Really, we went from scratch to put a brand new system in there in February. Those guys have done a really good job that way and it’s something that’s helped out players, too.”

Assistant coaches are not made available to media at this point in the season, per team policy.

Given Calhoun’s timing of the announcement – coming shortly after playing Navy – the logical explanation is that he wanted to set a smokescreen for the Midshipmen. Reports from Annapolis indicated Navy did not know which assistant was running the defense, as at least four others would have been reasonable guesses. Because Air Force had not yet faced an option team this season, the only way coach Ken Niumatalolo’s staff would have been able to study film of the coordinator to find tendencies would be to comb through the archives of multiple coaches. Long searches through the years of coaching for linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, defensive line coach Tim Cross or spur linebackers coach Brian Knorr would have been long, winding false trails. As it turns out, the promotion came from within, but the Falcons did in fact change their defensive front for the matchup to great success in a 35-7 victory over their fellow service academy.

Rudzinski, in his eighth season on Air Force’s staff, joins Tim DeRuyter, Charlton Warren and Russ as academy graduates to coordinate the defense under Calhoun.

“He’s a tireless worker,” Calhoun said. “Sharp. Has a really, really good feel for the players.”

©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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Utah's quarterback Alex Smith escapes Air Force linebacker John Rudzinski as he applies pressure during the fourth quarter of their game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Saturday, September 25, 2004.

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