Air Force Promotes Reynolds To Head Basketball Coach

Tuesday, April 17th 2007, 7:45 pm

By: News On 6

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) _ Jeff Reynolds surrendered his keys and credentials after packing up his office at the Air Force Academy two weeks ago.

Now he needs them back.

The Falcons promoted Reynolds, an assistant the last two seasons, to head coach on Tuesday. He replaces good friend Jeff Bzdelik, who left for Colorado in early April.

The 50-year old Reynolds was all set to follow Bzdelik to Boulder as his assistant. Reynolds had already cleaned out his desk at Air Force, said his goodbyes and moved all his personal belongings into his new confines at Colorado. He'd even been given a new wardrobe of Colorado clothing.

But then Falcons athletic director Hans Mueh called Sunday morning to make him the seventh basketball coach in program history.

So now he's trying to find time to sneak back up to Boulder and clean out his Colorado office.

``We knew we had a gem in our backyard,'' said Mueh, who interviewed close to a dozen applicants, including assistants Larry Mangino and A.J. Kuhle.

Reynolds never even formally interviewed for the position. His exit interview actually got him hired. After cleaning out his desk, Reynolds, wearing sweat pants and a polo shirt, was called into the office of associate athletic director Mike Saks. The two, along with Mueh, talked for about 15 minutes about what the program needed to move forward.

Mueh and Saks liked what they heard.

``We were absolutely blown away by his passion, emotion and vision,'' Mueh said of the meeting on April 2.

His five-year deal will be worth around $350,000 a season, about the same figure Bzdelik made with the Falcons. The contract also includes a $500,000 buyout clause, just in case other teams want to lure Reynolds away. Bzdelik's buyout was a comparatively small $270,000.

Mueh had joked that he was going to put in a $1 million buyout clause simply because he was tired of losing quality coaches. Reynolds is the fourth coach in the last five years.

Not that Reynolds plans on leaving anytime soon.

``I'm not taking this job to use as a stepping stone,'' he said. ``I'm here to stay as long as they would want me. I'm 50 years old.''

Reynolds fought back tears at his press conference. His mom was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was with her in North Carolina when he received the news of his hiring.

``That's the emotional swing I've been on,'' he said. ``I didn't pursue the job publicly because I didn't want to ruin friendships.''

Like the one with Bzdelik. The two are close friends and Reynolds didn't know how to break the news to him.

``I said, 'Coach, what do you want me to do?''' said Reynolds, who never officially signed a contract with the Buffaloes. ``He said, 'You have my support. If you take the job, I'll feel like I had been a little bit successful in helping you reach your goal.' That was a weight off my shoulders.''

He didn't know it at the time, but Bzdelik put in a good word for Reynolds on his way out.

``Jeff Bzdelik took me aside and said, 'I would encourage you to talk to (Reynolds) about this job,''' Mueh said. ``I would probably not have done that because I wanted to honor whatever commitment he had to Jeff (Bzdelik).''

Reynolds joined Bzdelik's staff two years ago after serving as an assistant at Tulane from 2000 to 2004. He was the head coach at Division II Wingate in North Carolina from 1997 to 2000, finishing 61-27. He also was head coach for the 1985-86 season at North Carolina Wesleyan, going 21-7.

Some of the Air Force players assembled in the back of the room, listening intently to what Reynolds had to say. The Falcons were hoping the job went to an assistant.

``He still could've chosen CU, but he wanted to be with us and we appreciate that,'' guard Adam Hood said. ``We feel like he's on our ship and that ship is going in the right direction.''

Some rough sailing may be ahead, though. The Falcons graduate their top four scorers from a team that won a school-record 26 games and reached the NIT semifinals.

``We may be short on experience, but we're not short on talent,'' Hood said. ``We've been playing against, at one point last season, the No. 11 ranked team in the country. We competed with them every day. They shared so much with us.''

Reynolds stressed patience. He also vowed not to stray from the formula that's been working for Air Force in recent years _ tenacious defense and a motion offense that generates open shots on the perimeter and lots of layups.

``No one's going to come in here and invent a new wheel,'' Reynolds said.

He realizes the expectations are high. Bzdelik went 50-16 at Air Force before the Buffaloes lured him away for more than $750,000 a year.

``It's a good fit for me,'' Reynolds said. ``I love the lifestyle and what the academy is about. I'm (an) energetic, emotional, high-energy 50-year-old idiot sometimes. I'm passionate about what I do.''

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