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Strange Road Leads to Happiness for Bzdelik

November 27, 2005|From the Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Taking a struggling NBA franchise on a surprising trip to the playoffs probably hurt his fortunes. Getting fired from that job may have helped them.

Nobody ever accused Jeff Bzdelik of taking the traditional route through the coaching ranks.

But now that he has been extricated from a difficult situation with the Denver Nuggets and resurfaced down Interstate 25 at the Air Force Academy, Bzdelik may have found what he's been searching for in basketball: happiness, a great situation for his family -- and the chance to work with players who want to be coached.

"A timely, timely fit," is what Bzdelik calls his arrival at Air Force this season. "Timely because I get to satisfy a lot of needs."

Need No. 1 was that of his 14-year-old daughter, Courtney, who had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor at around the time Bzdelik got his new job. Courtney is doing well now and both she and Bzdelik's 17-year-old son, Brett, attend high school in the Denver suburbs.

Many in the vagabond world of basketball coaches might have uprooted the family to pursue the next challenge. That was never in the cards for Coach Bzzz.

"I have great kids and it's very important to keep them stable," he says.

After his firing by the Nuggets last December, Bzdelik could be found in gyms everywhere -- NBA, Division I, II and III. He had worked for the Washington Bullets from 1988-94, then under Pat Riley with the Miami Heat before coming to Denver. Basketball was in his blood.

For some reason -- proximity was certainly part of it -- Air Force kept drawing Bzdelik back.

At the time, there was no inkling that first-year Falcons coach Chris Mooney would leave after the season. And no coach with a resume like Bzdelik's would take a job at Air Force anyway, would he?

Air Force? Although a surprise trip to the NCAA tournament in 2004 has improved the outlook, the program is still a blip on the national radar with a losing tradition of 40-plus years.

"Each situation is unique and different, particularly at this place," says the 52-year-old Bzdelik, who served six years in the Army National Guard in the 1970s. "You have an Ivy League education. Players play very hard. They want to get better and they're awesome individuals."

And?

"Players at this level, they have a tendency to listen better than at the next level," Bzdelik says.

That is the coach's way of stating what had become obvious as his 2 1/2 -year tenure with the Nuggets wound down: Nobody there would listen to him. It wasn't because he couldn't coach -- nobody doubted that -- but rather because nobody in the organization had his back.

He was hired in 2002, the season after the Nuggets went 27-65, and was given a two-year contract, an inordinately short deal for a team looking for a coach with whom to rebuild.

What became clear, though, was that the Nuggets weren't looking to rebuild with Bzdelik, only to pass some time. A few free agents, a few more high draft picks, one of which turned out to be Carmelo Anthony, and Denver would be ready to take the next step, presumably with another coach.

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