The Air Force men’s basketball job has seemingly become Dave Pilipovich’s to lose. It would be tough to deny a coach who was given a seven-game regular-season audition, and in the third game happened to pull off the biggest upset in the history of the program.
Pilipovich became interim coach when Jeff Reynolds was fired on Feb. 8. Athletic director Hans Mueh said he would get a legitimate chance to win the job permanently. He likes Pilipovich’s positive style and respects his basketball knowledge.
Pilipovich led Air Force to an impressive win at Wyoming, which was just a sign of things to come. When it comes time for Mueh to meet with Pilipovich after the season, Pilipovich might be smart to bring a DVD of Saturday’s 58-56 win over 13th-ranked San Diego State along with his resume.
“After today, I think it’s a giant step for him,” said guard Michael Lyons, a junior and Air Force’s best player. “Coach P is a great guy. Coach Reynolds was a great guy. Coach P is still a great guy, and we’d like to keep him around. And this goes a long way for him, this win does.”
The players have supported Pilipovich since Reynolds was fired. They have backed that up by playing hard, and well, for him.
“We’ve done a couple little things different, and I think the big thing Coach P does is he gives everyone confidence,” junior center Taylor Broekhuis said. “The coaching staff has confidence in what you’re doing, and you’re going to mess up, we know we’re going to mess up, but they can handle that and they’re going to encourage us to get better.
“I love our coaching staff right now. They’re like family to me. It would be great to have them back for our final year.”
Mueh didn’t want to discuss the topic on the record after the game. And the situation could change dramatically over the next three weeks. But at this point, hiring Pilipovich makes sense for a few reasons. He has connected with the players, and that’s not insignificant considering almost all of them will be back next year. He is part of the staff that did a good job recruiting under Reynolds, so that won’t be new to him. He has experience, at least as an assistant, having coached for 25-plus years before getting his first shot to run his own program this year. He could seamlessly move into next season, when the Falcons will have a talented senior class and a chance to make a significant improvement. And he has two good wins in three games. Air Force was 1-6 in conference when he took over.
If Pilipovich is worried about his future, he isn’t letting on. It will be a big story for the Falcons’ program the rest of the season, but he doesn’t want the attention on him. He wants his players to be the focus.
“It’s not about me,” Pilipovich said. “I’ve told the administration – and they’re great, and the people here are great – whatever happens, happens at the end. And I told the team in the locker room, no matter what, no matter where we are in 10, 15, 20, 30 years from now, they can never take this away from us. This is pretty darn good, guys. This is right there with the biggest moments in your life.
“It’s just neat, and I’m just floating right now. We’re going to work on Monday, and we’re going to work on Monday and we’ll keep playing and see what happens, and whatever happens happens. But we’re in a great spot. No matter what, we’re in a no-lose situation.”