CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Fralin Family Head Football Coach Tony Elliott announced today (Jan. 13) the hiring of John Rudzinski as the program’s defensive coordinator.
Rudzinski has spent the past 14 seasons as a member of the Air Force coaching staff, including the past four years as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator. During his time at Air Force, he has also worked as the program’s recruiting coordinator, outside linebacker coach and defensive backs coach.
This past season Air Force went 10-3 and defeated Louisville 31-28 in the SERVPRO First Responders Bowl. It marked the second time in a three-year span the Falcons had achieved 10 victories. Air Force shared the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division title with a 6-2 league mark.
The Falcons finished the 2021 campaign fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing just 296.5 yards per game. The team was ninth in rushing defense (102.2 ypg.), 16th in scoring (19.8 ppg.) 19th in passing yards allowed (194.4 ypg.) and 28th in sacks with a total of 37, the most since the 2015 season.
Rudzinski’s 2020 defense was among the top units in program history, finishing third nationally in scoring defense with a 15.0 average. The 15.0 mark was the best at the Academy since 1997. The team also ranked fifth nationally in passing yards allowed (166.8) and fourth in redzone defense (.692).
The 2019 defense ranked 17th in the FBS in total defense (319.6 yards per game) and 20th in scoring defense (19.8). The Falcons were also seventh in the FBS in rushing defense (100.5) last year. Air Force allowed a school-record 100.5 yards rushing in 2019, breaking the old mark of 109 set in 1985. Opponents were held under 100 yards rushing nine times. Air Force allowed just 319.6 total yards and 19.8 points per game while ranking among the top 10 in red zone defense.
Leading the secondary, the defense has been among the conference’s elite. Air Force finished 22nd in the country in interceptions in 2016. He was vital in the development of All-American safety Weston Steelhammer, who finished as the career leader in interceptions with 18. Steelhammer ranks second in Mountain West history in career. Air Force’s defense was vastly improved under his leadership. The squad was second in the MW in rushing defense (116.9), sixth in scoring defense (25.8) and fourth in total defense (360.9).
The 2015 group had two first-team all-conference honorees in Steelhammer and cornerback Roland Ladipo. The secondary also boasted three of the top four tacklers in 2015. In 2014, Steelhammer earned first-team all-conference honors, his first of a school-record three selections to the conference’s first team. Safety Christian Spears was also among the team leaders in tackles with 81.
As recruiting coordinator from 2012-2014, Rudzinski managed the national academic and athletic evaluation of high school prospects. Those recruiting classes would produce 28 wins, two bowl championships and two Commander-in-Chief Trophy wins over a three-year period (2014-2016).
Rudzinski’s first two years back on staff, the Falcons won back-to-back Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in 2010-11. In 2011, he assisted the defense to finish first in the conference in passing defense with a 166.8 average. In 2010, the Falcon defense was even better, ranking second nationally by allowing just 147.8 passing yards per game. The defensive success aided Air Force to a 9-4 record, capped by a victory over Georgia Tech in the Independence Bowl.
Rudzinski began his coaching career in 2005 as a graduate assistant at the Academy, serving for two years under the leadership of College Football Hall of Famer Fisher DeBerry. Learning under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Richard Bell, Rudzinski helped develop future all-conference performers Drew Fowler and John Rabold.
Transitioning to Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., Rudzinski served as maintenance operations officer from 2007-10, leading 250 airman. He was responsible for the people, products and processes for the multi-billion dollar C-17 aircraft maintenance effort. Throughout his time in Charleston, he coached at First Baptist High School as a defensive assistant.
Rudzinski is a 2001 high school graduate from Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin. A three-year letterman at the Air Force Academy, he led the team in tackles over this span. A two-time captain, Rudzinski was named the team’s most valuable player and was honored with Air Force’s Brian Bullard Award, which is the program’s highest honor. An honorable mention all-Mountain West selection as a senior, Rudzinski was selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game.
Rudzinski graduated from the Academy in 2005 as a distinguished graduate and a member of Superintendent’s List. He was also honored as outstanding cadet in management. Rudzinski has since earned his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado.
He and his wife, Lauren, have five children, Elin, Luke, Malin, Paul and Beau.