Athletic director departs after 10 years

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
A week before his retirement, Dr. Hans Mueh was figuring out how he would box up 27 years' worth of memories. When Mueh took over as the Academy's athletic director 10 years ago, the moving process was a bit more simple: he packed everything in his office in the Chemistry Department, "schlepped" it over to the Falcon Athletic Center and unpacked it.

Mueh, who retires Jan. 23, has some experience with moving. His family immigrated to the United States from West Germany in 1951, when he was 9, and briefly lived in Fessenden, N.D., until Mueh's father found a job in Milwaukee. From there, Mueh came to the Air Force Academy for the first time, as a cadet.

After graduating, he became an intelligence officer. He served three tours while in that career field: Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va., from 1967-1969, Saigon, South Vietnam, and Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, from 1972-1973, and the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon from 1985-1986. Between those tours, the Academy sponsored him for postgraduate study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received both his master's degree and doctorate in chemistry.

Mueh came to the Academy in 1977 to teach chemistry, first as an associate professor and then as a tenured professor. He became the acting head of the Chemistry Department in 1986, later taking on the role fulltime. In 2002, he became the vice dean of the faculty, and in 2004, he competed for the dean position.

"(Brig. Gen.) Dana Born and I were the two finalists for the dean of the faculty position," Mueh said. "I had applied as a civilian. She applied on the military side. I got to interview Secretary of the Air Force James Roche, who was smart enough to pick her for the job."

While Mueh wasn't picked for dean, the interview apparently left a good impression on Roche, who agreed with then-Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa that Mueh would make a fine athletic director.

Mueh got word of his appointment to the Athletic Department on a Wednesday. He recalled feeling that something was up during a senior staff meeting, when Lt. Gen. John Rosa, the then-superintendent, and Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, the then-commandant, would exchange glances with him and then with each other. That afternoon, he got a phone call on a number only a few people had.

"Usually only my wife called on that line," he said. "Fortunately I didn't say 'Hi, honey,' because it was General Rosa. He said, 'Hans, how would you like to be the athletic director?'

"I told him, 'Sir, we already have an athletic director, Mike Bloomfield. I helped you pick him,'" Mueh said. But Bloomfield, then a colonel, had backed out on the job and decided to retire.

Mueh pointed out that he was retiring as well. "Doesn't matter. We'll civilianize it," Rosa told him.

So Mueh relented and agreed to take the job temporarily.

"I told him, 'I'll just do it for a year while you do this search for a permanent athletic director,'" he said. "Here I am, 10 years later."

In those 10 years, Mueh has brought in coaches whose names hold reverence to faithful Air Force fans: Troy Calhoun, Frank Serratore, Jeff Bzdelik, Dave Pilipovich. Other coaches may have less familiar names but have also set up successful programs, such as Mike Kazlausky in baseball, Dave Oosterhaus in tennis, Jeff Heidmous in water polo, Doug Hill and Larry Friend in men's and women's soccer, Ralph Lindeman in track and field and Matt McShane in volleyball.

"Just go down the list," Mueh said. "Bzdelik took the program Joe Scott had started and took it to an unprecedented level. We had a stretch where Air Force was 65-3 in home games. Kaz is not just a great baseball coach but a tremendous inspiration in our mission of building leaders of character. McShane took a volleyball program that was one of the worst in the NCAA to the middle of a very powerful conference."

Mueh also praised the cadet athletes who comprise those teams and the coaches for their recruiting skills.

"We have incredibly high standards," he said. "We expect involvement in local communities, high academic achievement, and so on. And you're giving up any dreams of being in a professional sport, because when you as a young man or woman commit to the Air Force Academy, you've committed to serving your country for a minimum of five years. So the fact we're still recruiting who we are is amazing to me, and it makes me proud that people are still willing to serve in an environment where military service is entirely voluntary."

And while cadet athletes may not be the beefiest football players or the tallest basketball players, their "never-quit" mindset demands respect from opponents, Mueh said.

"We may be outmatched, but we will never give up," he said. "When they're competing, they're competing for their brothers and sisters. That's what sets us apart: Maybe we're not a match for another team on paper, but we'll match them on the field."

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson said the spirit of competition is part of what makes cadets leaders.

"It's an essential element of what we at the Academy define as our essence - those elements essential to the Academy experience," she said. "The position of athletic director cannot be undervalued and Dr. Mueh has been instrumental in challenging all of our cadets through physical education courses, intramurals, competitive clubs, and intercollegiate athletics."

Mueh said that competitive spirit is what kept him at the Academy far longer than he originally envisioned.

"I would not have done this job at any other school," he said. "This is a pretty special place. That's what's going to be hard to leave. I'll miss the classroom, having 20 kids to teach in a chemistry class. I'll miss the way they react when I show up to practice. I'm still going to be a fan, but it won't be the same."