Air Force fires hoops coach Reynolds

The fiery nature of Air Force basketball coach Jeff Reynolds ultimately led to his firing.

His intensity on the bench began to rub the Falcons the wrong way, zapping the fun from the game.

And that, athletic director Hans Mueh explained, was why he dismissed Reynolds on Wednesday in the middle of his fifth season in charge of the program.

Mueh reached the decision after chatting with several of the players. He promoted assistant coach Dave Pilipovich to interim coach, hoping he could rekindle the passion on the court.

”I could care less if they don’t win another game,” Mueh said. ”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 when they’re playing.

”I can’t continue to allow the athletes on the court to just go through the motions and not have fun playing the game.”

Under Reynolds, the Falcons were 11-10 this season with a 1-6 mark in the Mountain West Conference. They also suffered their worst home loss ever Jan. 31 when they lost to New Mexico 81-42.

Reynolds has a 63-82 overall record at Air Force and owns a 145-116 career mark in eight-plus seasons as a head coach. He had two years left on his contract.

”With all due respect to coach Reynolds, it was time to make a change and infuse a little bit of energy, a little bit of laughter and a little bit of fun into this program and into those great athletes that are out there,” Mueh said.

Reynolds released a statement through the academy saying, ”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.”

The Falcons have recently fallen on hard times, dropping six in a row. They let No. 14 UNLV off the hook on Jan. 28, falling 65-63 in overtime.

Mueh just felt he needed to rejuvenate the team.

Enter Pilipovich, who was brought in by Reynolds five years ago after a two-year stint at Michigan. He called this a bittersweet day, since he considers Reynolds a friend.

”Now, we’ve got to regroup and recharge and move forward and carry this program on like we’re supposed to do,” Pilipovich said. ”We’ve got great young men.”

Pilipovich doesn’t plan on making wholesale changes. Not this late in the season.

”We’re going to continue what we do because I think we do it well when we perform at the top of our ability,” Pilipovich said.

Pilipovich said he received the blessing of Reynolds before taking over. He’s treating this as a possible audition for a more permanent role.

”But we’re going to let that fall to when the decision comes,” he said. ”We’re going to rally the troops together and get those guys playing to the best of their ability.”

With the change in leadership, the players are viewing this as a fresh opportunity.

”We want to show people that we can bounce back from something so negative happening to the program right now,” junior guard Michael Lyons said. ”I think it’s a good thing to say this is a 0-0 start to a new season. I think we’ll take advantage.”

Lyons said that Reynolds’ overbearing style did wear on certain players, but not as much as losing.

”When things go bad, it just brings the mood down for everybody,” he said. ”The mood was partially down due to that as well.”

He wasn’t alone in that regard.

”We kind of lost the fun out of it, the joy,” said senior Taylor Stewart, who’s out indefinitely with a broken fibula. ”I don’t think any of us had ever experienced that. With coach Pilipovich as head coach, he brings a lot to the table, an excitement.”

That’s what Mueh is hoping.

”When it’s not fun playing the game you love, it’s time to make a change,” Mueh said. ”None of these kids are in here to become NBA stars. They’re here to become officers in the Air Force. Everything we do at the Air Force Academy is about leadership and character.

”This was a hard, hard leadership and character lesson for them and it doesn’t need to be that hard.”

And when he informed the players of the change?

”Smiles, for the first time in months,” Mueh said. ”Obviously, they agreed with my decision. Obviously, they were frustrated. I know that Jeff Reynolds was frustrated. He was trying his darndest to make it work. But it wasn’t working.”