Ex-Nuggets coach hired to lead Air Force
DENVER – In the weeks and months after he got fired by the Denver Nuggets, Jeff Bzdelik spent a lot of time watching practices at Air Force.Turns out, that was time well spent. On Wednesday, Air Force hired the former Nuggets coach to replace Chris Mooney, who unexpectedly left to coach at Richmond after just one season with the Falcons.”He brings a wealth of experience at the highest levels of basketball and has a proven record,” Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said of Bzdelik, who will be a college coach for the first time since the late 1980s, when he coached University of Maryland-Baltimore County.Bzdelik was not available for comment Wednesday. An introductory news conference was scheduled for next Monday, giving the coach the rest of the week to take care of personal business.While he won’t be put in charge of a turnaround project the likes of the Nuggets, a team he steered into the playoffs in 2004 after eight straight losing seasons, he will take over a very fragile program at Air Force, one that was shocked and upset when Mooney suddenly left.The Falcons went 18-12 last season to complete their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1975-76.Stunned by Mooney’s quick departure, Air Force hopes to add stability to the program and has insisted on a buyout clause – a clause that was missing from Mooney’s deal – in the multiyear contract Bzdelik will sign later this week, a school spokesman said.Financial terms and the exact length of the contract were not immediately released, but the buyout clause will make it expensive for Bzdelik to get out of the deal.An assistant for Pat Riley in Miami from 1995-2001, Bzdelik went 17-65 in 2002-03, his first season as head coach of the Nuggets.The next season was the last of Bzdelik’s contract, but the unexpected trip to the playoffs triggered a clause that called for his deal to automatically extend for one season.He never had the full confidence of general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, however, and many believe that contributed to his inability to motivate the Nuggets this season, who played well below expectations to start the year.The Nuggets fired Bzdelik after a 13-15 start. While George Karl was leading the Nuggets to a stirring finish, Bzdelik was staying sharp by attending college practices and games around the region, including at Air Force.Now, he’s the coach of the Falcons – their third in three years.”We are very happy for Jeff,” Vandeweghe said. “He has a passion for working with young players and will be a great fit for Air Force. The Academy is getting a man of great integrity, dedication and basketball acumen. We wish him the best of luck.”
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