Jeff Reynolds had a tough act to follow as Air Force's head men's basketball coach.
For nearly five seasons, Reynolds tried to bring the AFA program back up to where it had been earlier in the last decade, when former head coaches Joe Scott, Chris Mooney and then Jeff Bzdelik changed the Falcons' personality and produced huge successes.
But in the end, Reynolds was simply overmatched. This was a pivotal season for him anyway, but after Air Force fell into a six-game tailspin over the past month, AFA athletic director Hans Mueh wouldn't defend his coach any longer.
Tuesday afternoon, Reynolds was fired effective immediately, not given the chance to even finish the season. One of his assistants, Dave Pilipovich, will finish the season as Mueh begins looking for a replacement.
Air Force actually still was 11-10 for this season, but only because of a stack of wins against inferior nonleague opponents before Mountain West Conference play began. After winning their MWC opener at Boise State, the Falcons have lost six in a row, capped last week by an 81-42 blowout defeat at home to New Mexico and a 67-49 loss at Colorado State. Reynolds' overall record was 63-82.
With only one game scheduled this week, here Saturday against Boise State, Mueh met with the players and then made the decision. At the announcement, he talked about wanting to give the Falcons a chance to enjoy their remaining games. He also hinted that Reynolds' intense style had worn down the players.
It's too early to speculate on what direction Air Force might take next, but Mountain West schools have been able to hire some highly visible coaches in recent years, such as Steve Alford at New Mexico, Steve Fisher at San Diego State and Lon Kruger at Nevada-Las Vegas. (Kruger left after last season for Oklahoma.)
From the AFA news release, quoting Mueh:
Why was this decision made?
“It wasn’t just a slide in wins and losses, but it was a slide in the look in the player’s eyes. They weren’t having fun playing this game anymore. And when it isn’t fun playing a game that you love, it is time to make a change. We are all about producing leaders of character for the Air Force and we feel strongly that the athletic program we offer at the Air Force Academy is part of that leadership development. This one wasn’t doing what we hoped it would do as a leadership development tool. With all due respect to coach Reynolds, it was time to make a change and infuse a little bit of energy, laughter and fun into this program and to the great athletes that are out there.”
Was there any one incident that went into this decision?
What had everything to do with this decision is trying to get these young men back to this game that they have loved since they were three or four years old and going out and having fun. I could care less if we don’t’ win another game, but I care a lot about their atmosphere and attitude out on the floor. I want them to jump up and high five each other. I want them to smile. I want them to give it their best shot out there and whatever happens happens.
Why was the decision made now?
There are a couple reasons. This is a break in the schedule. This is halfway through the conference schedule and there is a lot of basketball left. This was a real opportunity during this dead week when we don’t have a Wednesday game to assess this and I felt that after all the data I took in, I had to make the move now.
Later, Air Force released the following statement from Reynolds: "Janet and I would like to thank all the staff and their families, the players and their families and fans for the past four and one-half seasons. We appreciated the opportunity and everyone’s support to coach at such a great institution, the Air Force Academy. While I am very saddened and disappointed with the decision, I do think our staff did many good things. I want to thank Dr. Mueh and the leadership at the Academy for the opportunity. I wish the program much success."