AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Jeff Bzdelik wore his trademark suit and his trademark optimism, but was not where he last left the spotlight.
Bzdelik, the former Denver Nuggets coach fired Dec. 28, was introduced as the Air Force Academy men’s basketball coach Monday morning. He was glad to be back working after taking his longest basketball hiatus in 18 years.
“It’s been a long time,” he said of the last time he wasn’t working in basketball. “There were two sides to it. I always err on the side of being positive, and it gave me an opportunity — like a sabbatical. It gave me an opportunity to go out and learn as much as I could. It’s kind of like doing your own autopsy in a way.”
Bzdelik replaces Chris Mooney, who left the Falcons after one year May 5 to take the head-coaching job at the University of Richmond. Mooney replaced Joe Scott, who left for Princeton University.
Bzdelik is the program’s third coach in the last 13 months, but he sounded like he wanted to set down roots with the Falcons, in large part because his family wants to stay in Colorado.
“My son and daughter have as many votes as my wife and I,” Bzdelik said. “It was very quick; ‘Dad, let’s just stay here, can we please?’”
Bzdelik’s introduction would have been made last week, but he was tending to a family health issue. He wouldn’t go into the details, only saying that “my real dream team is at the Children’s Hospital here in Denver. The doctors, nurses, technicians, medical staff, they truly are my dream team.”
Bzdelik’s deal is for five years with a buyout. Director of Athletics Dr. Hans Mueh didn’t go into details, but the salary range is between $250,000 and $300,000.
Mueh spoke glowingly of the new coach.
“One of the things we never ever expected was an interest from Jeff Bzdelik,” said Mueh, who said the Academy received a lot of interest from other coaches. “That came out of the blue and excited us immediately. We talked to Jeff on Sunday — that was a week ago — at his house. We had a great meeting, went through lots of details and after that meeting all of us on the senior staff were convinced this was the person for us.”
Bzdelik said when he saw that Mooney took the Richmond job, he didn’t hesitate to express his interest.
“I saw that Chris left on a Friday morning and I called them about two minutes later,” he said.
Bzdelik was somewhat familiar with the Falcons because he attended some of their practices, along with some at Metro State and Denver University, after he left the Nuggets.
“When I left the Nuggets, I can’t just sit down. I need to do something,” he said. “I spent a week down in San Antonio with coach (Gregg) Popovich. I went to Metro State; Mike Dunlap runs his practices at 7 a.m. and I came here and I saw some other practices with (Memphis Grizzlies) coach Mike Fratello and Phoenix. You always want to learn and once you stop trying to learn you might as well just go six feet under.”
Bzdelik said his time as Nuggets head coach might bring more exposure to the Falcons, and he was glad he got the opportunity with Denver.
“I’m happy for their success,” he said. “I feel real good about it from the standpoint that it’s a race towards a trophy and I was given the baton to start the race, and I thought I did a heck of a job running the first part of the relay. I’ll just leave it at that. I know the truth and that’s all that really matters.”
Now he wants to focus on the Falcons’ success.
“I told our team we want to be the meanest, nastiest, best-conditioned, hardest-working team,” he said. “We can control that. And we need to take it personal when people score on us. We have to have better effort than our opponent. We have to. The skill part comes and the execution part comes and for the most part my teams have always played like that and I won’t tolerate anything but that.
“I just want to win, and that’s what I told our players. I know they want to win, and we’re going to do what we can to prepare ourselves for that.”