Fisher DeBerry, the long-time football coach at the Air Force Academy, announced his retirement this afternoon, after 27 years at the school, 23 of them as head coach.
Regrettably, this article from FoxSports focuses on the controversies that dogged Coach Fisher at the end of his tenure. In 2005, he was criticized for his comments following a 48-10 loss to TCU, when he remarked that his team didn't have enough "Afro-American athletes...that run very well." A year earlier, Academy officials forced him to remove a sign from the Falcons' locker room that included the lines: "I am a Christian first and last...I am a member of team Jesus Christ." Fisher, a dedicated Christian, made no apologies for his faith, and the role it played in his life.
The media--and academy critics--may have disagreed with DeBerry's faith-based approach, but it worked magic with his teams. As we noted in October 1995, Coach DeBerry achieved amazing success at an institution that doesn't compromise academics to admit talented athletes. His overall record was 169-107-1, making he the most successful coach in Academy history, and the winningest coach at any of the service academies since the days of Red Blaik's legendary Army teams in the 1940s. DeBerry dominated the other academies during his tenure, logging 35 victories against West Point and Annapolis, against only eleven defeats. His teams won the Commander-in-Chief Trophy a total of 14 times; the award is given annually to the service academy with the best won/loss record against its rivals.
But DeBerry's real legacy is measured in the leaders he helped produce for the Air Force--and the nation. His former players have served in every conflict since Vietnam, many with great distinction. DeBerry's early graduates are now reaching the flag ranks; the rest can be found among the Colonels, Majors, Captains and Lieutenants that wear the Air Force uniform around the world, and those who have pursued a civilian career. Many will tell you that Coach DeBerry made an indelible impression on their lives.
Thanks, Coach DeBerry for a job exceptionally well done. You earned the admiration and respect of your peers in the coaching profession, and many of us who wore the uniform--even if we didn't graduate from "The Zoo."
At the time DeBerry was under fire for his supposedly "racist" remarks, we noted that the under-representation of minorities at the service academies raises serious questions about athletics, academics, and the expectations often assigned to minority youngsters. As far as we can tell, those questions remain unanswered.