Player development starts with officer development

Third-year Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun leads football practice Aug. 4 at the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colo.  The Falcons host the Nicholls State Colonels Sept. 5 in their home opener.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Third-year Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun leads football practice Aug. 4 at the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colo. The Falcons host the Nicholls State Colonels Sept. 5 in their home opener. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Head football coach Troy Calhoun reacts to a reporter's question July 30 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Coach Calhoun enters his second year as head coach, guiding the Falcons to their best Mountain West Conference record in school history in 2007 with a 9-4 record. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Head football coach Troy Calhoun reacts to a reporter's question July 30 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Coach Calhoun enters his second year as head coach, guiding the Falcons to their best Mountain West Conference record in school history in 2007 with a 9-4 record. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- "A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things worthwhile, it can be done." 

These words came from Vince Lombardi, former head coach of the NFL's Green Bay Packers from 1959-67, winning five league championships during his nine years. As with many of Coach Lombardi's famous speeches, his words carry off the field and into the lives of those who had the pleasure to hear them the first time. 

Though these words were not spoken to the cadets preparing to be future officers of character doing battle on the gridiron, it is the message that U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons football head coach Troy Calhoun has emphasized to his team from day one. 

"There is a clear purpose for what we do here," Coach Calhoun said. "It is to develop the young men and women who are here to become graduates of the Academy.

"It all starts with character," the 1989 graduate added. "There is a process that must occur and it starts with identifying really talented young people who are bright and have shown strong leadership potential. While they are here, we further develop those traits -- selflessness, self-discipline, regard for others, mutual respect and team pride. When these traits are embedded and developed, you will be at the point where you can open the sky to leadership potential." 

Though only having coached the Falcons since 2007, Coach Calhoun has had a direct effect on many of the Air Force's newest officers. 

"I've only been an officer for a couple of weeks, but my leadership ability was definitely established on the field under Coach Calhoun," said 2nd Lt. Aaron Kirchoff, a financial analyst with the 50th Space Wing Comptroller Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., and former Falcons free safety. 

"It's the unity that was instilled by Coach Calhoun, especially because he was a graduate and served as an officer," said the 2009 graduate. "For example, as a free safety, I was the last line of defense. Other defensive players needed to trust me to be there when they missed a tackle. That is kind of how I lead as an officer. I expect you to do your job, but when someone in the unit drops the ball, everyone in the squadron needs to be there to help them out." 

Lieutenant Kirchoff's philosophy on leadership with an emphasis on teamwork can be easily related back to Coach Calhoun's mentorship. 

"We don't have team captains on this team," said Coach Calhoun. "Leadership-wise, they all need to be assertive and come to the forefront when it's needed." 

Former Falcons quarterback 2nd Lt. Shea Smith also took the Coach Calhoun's teachings with him as he embarked on his career as an Air Force officer. 

"Coach gave us advice about doing the right thing off the field in order to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for gameday," the Academy graduate assistant coach said. "That is a good lesson: realizing that the choices you make, like where to spend your off-duty time and what to put in your body, affect your performance.

"It's important to know that you are always representing something more than just yourself, even in the actions of your private life," he added. "As players here, we were always representing the football team (whether we wanted that or not). Now, as officers, we are always representing the Air Force, when we're on the job or off. I do want to stress that to our players now also. I want them to be young men of great character, and character is who you are all the time." 

Coach Calhoun's and Lieutenant Smith's belief in doing the right thing on-and off-duty ties directly to a quotation on leadership by German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. 

"Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life. Always be tactful and well-mannered. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide," said Rommel in a quote taken from the 2009-2010 "Contrails" cadet instruction book. 

"I try to develop as much heart and character in my players," Coach Calhoun said. "The more players have an understanding of what it takes to be well-rounded, the better they will play as a person and, more importantly, as a team." 

Lieutenant Kirchoff shared his memory of how Coach Calhoun emphasized heart and character among his players. 

"No matter what game we were going into or who we were playing, he always knew we could win," he said. "Sometimes you can tell when a coach or player is scared of losing, but that was never prevalent inside the Academy locker room. He instilled in all of us that we could win every single game, and of course we are not going to win every game, but a team of players who all know we can win is hard to beat." 

The Academy football program's goal is to first develop its players into officers of character and then to focus on winning that week's game, and it appears as though Coach Calhoun is succeeding at developing his players and preparing them to become Air Force leaders. 

"I came to the Academy to play for Coach DeBerry, but I stayed at the Academy because of Coach Calhoun," Lieutenant Kirchoff said.