While limited in recruiting compared to their Mountain West Conference counterparts due to their academic standards and commitment process, the Air Force Academy continues to be a model of consistency on the football field.
Excluding the truncated 2020 season, the Falcons have put together three consecutive full regular seasons of reaching double-digit victories. In the past two seasons, the Falcon teams have achieved an overall record of 10-3. It all begins with a coaching staff that preaches discipline and technique.
Air Force Falcons Coaching Staff 2023
Head Coach, Troy Calhoun
Calhoun is entering his 17th season with the Air Force team, making him the longest-tenured head coach in the MWC.
However, excluding the 2020 team that went 3-3, Calhoun’s last three Falcon teams have been his most successful, going 11-2 in 2019 and delivering back-to-back 10-win seasons.
Calhoun has also etched his name in AFA’s history books. The 2022 team gave him his fifth campaign of winning 10 or more games, setting a new school record that surpassed the previous best held by the legendary head coach Fisher DeBerry. Furthermore, Calhoun has guided the Falcons to four straight bowl wins.
Calhoun has achieved this success with offensive linemen who must maintain a certain weight due to Air Force standards and by not landing five- or four-star recruits. Instead, his system relies on option schemes and utilizes up to three running backs, consistently providing the Falcons with one of the best running offenses in the MWC and the nation.
Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach, Mike Thiessen
Thiessen is one of the longest-tenured assistants at AFA, having been with the Falcons for 16 seasons. While annually working with a dual-threat passer, Thiessen has helped Calhoun and the team create one of the nation’s best ground attacks. Last season, Haaziq Daniels accounted for 15 touchdowns from the quarterback position.
Thiessen has also had a unique career path. He transitioned from being a former MLB draft pick with the Arizona Diamondbacks to becoming a college football assistant coach.
Tight Ends Coach, Marc Bacote
Bacote was hired on March 1, 2022, from Hampton University. In 2019, he served as a co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Howard. Years earlier, from 2010-2011 at Rutgers, he played a part in coaching a future NFL wide receiver named Mohamed Sanu.
Slot Running Backs Coach, Jake Campbell
Campbell has completed a dozen seasons with AFA, with his fifth working specifically with the slot running backs, also known as “slotbacks.” He is responsible for developing the more athletic and faster running game options each season for the Falcons. John Lee Eldridge III was one of his top options last season, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
Running Backs and Special Teams Coordinator, Tim Horton
Horton, meanwhile, oversees the entire backfield and special teams unit for the Falcons, a role he has held since 2021. However, Horton also has the distinction of working with the two winningest coaches in school history, Calhoun and DeBerry, as he was with the latter from 1999-2005. His lead rusher from last year was Brad Roberts, who accumulated 1,728 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Defensive Coordinator, Brian Knorr
Knorr provides Calhoun with an additional head coach on staff, having previously served as the head coach of Ohio University from 2001 to 2004. This is his third stint with the Falcons, with his previous two occurring in 1992-1994 and 2005-2007. Under his guidance, the 2022 defensive unit emerged as the best in the MWC, surrendering the fewest passing yards and rushing yards per game (the latter averaging 95.3 per game).
Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Backs Coach, Charlie Jackson
Jackson stepped down as the head coach of Kentucky State to return to his alma mater in January 2022. His return helped spearhead the conference’s best pass defense, which intercepted nine passes last season while allowing a conference-low of 159.1 passing yards per game.
Inside Linebackers, Ken Lamendola
Lamendola is entering his second season coaching the inside linebackers. However, he is not a stranger to AFA, as he was a team captain and a 2011 graduate of the Academy. Lamendola was hired around the same time as Jackson and was previously an assistant at Furman.
Offensive Line Coach, Steed Lobotzke
Lobotzke is entering his ninth season with the Falcons, spending his first two seasons working with tight ends. Since then, he has worked with an undersized but fleet-footed offensive line unit responsible for executing zone read blocks and creating lanes in Air Force’s exotic option scheme. Last season, AFA led the nation with 326.7 rushing yards per game, with the offensive line crew playing a significant role in that accomplishment.
Defensive Line Coach, Alex Means
While Lobotzke oversees a unit that opens up the ground attack, Means is responsible for coaching a defensive line group that excels at stopping the run. Once again, the Falcons topped the MWC in fewest rushing yards allowed per game, with Means’ odd-man front playing a strong role in that achievement.
Specialist Coach and Assistant Offensive Line Coach, Brett Skene
Skene has been with AFA since 2018, starting as an offensive analyst before taking on responsibilities for the offensive line and working with the specialists. Before his coaching career, Skene worked as an acquisition manager at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, as well as at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida from 2011 to 2015. He was a former AFA player from 2007 to 2008 before becoming a student manager.
Wide Receivers Coach, Taylor Stubblefield
Stubblefield returns to Air Force after his tenure with James Franklin at Penn State. However, Franklin relieved Stubblefield of his wide receiver coaching duties in Happ Valley in January 2023. Stubblefield is familiar with AFA, having coached there in 2017-2018 when Geraud Sanders and Marcus Bennett became school record-breaking wide receivers.
Safeties Coach, Nick Toth
Toth returns to AFA to coach safeties, having previously served as the “spurs” and nickels coach in 2017. He brings extensive Power 5 coaching experience, having coached at Texas A&M and Oregon during the time when future top 10 draft picks Von Miller and Kayvon Thibodeaux, respectively, were at those schools. Toth was also at UCF from 2018 to 2020 and served as the defensive coordinator at Fresno State from 2012 to 2015, including during their 2013 MWC title run.
Defensive Ends Coach, E.J. Whitlow
Whitlow enters his second season after joining from Miami (Ohio). One of his players, Dominique Robinson, was selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He also briefly coached Ivan Pace Jr. before his transfer to Cincinnati and eventual landing with the Minnesota Vikings. Whitlow made the jump from NCAA Division II program Grand Valley State to the FBS ranks.
Rounding out the rest of the staff are:
Director of Recruiting, Kale Pearson: Pearson, an ex-Falcons player and captain, is a 2015 graduate. He is the winner of the Brian Bullard Award, often referred to as the “Air Force Heisman.”
Assistant Recruiting Coordinator, Chuck Petersen: Petersen, who also worked with DeBerry, served as the offensive coordinator from 2000 to 2006. He was also the head coach of Orange Lutheran High School from 2012 to 2016, facing powerhouse teams like Mater Dei, St. John Bosco, and Servite in Southern California.
Defensive Assistant, Maj. Anthony Wright: Wright joins the staff after serving as a liaison officer at Camp Smith in Hawaii from 2021 to 2022. He was a two-time All-MWC selection at defensive back and graduated in 2012 before embarking on his Air Force officer career.