2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

What made Fisher DeBerry a hall of fame coach?

Published: May 18, 2011, 6:13 pm, by admin

I wanted to follow up today with some comments and thoughts from people about Fisher DeBerry, who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame yesterday, and look at what made him a special coach at Air Force.

The foundation of DeBerry’s success was in his offensive mind. When he came to Air Force, he was a top Xs and Os man who reinvented the way service academy football is played. All three service academy teams run some form of the option now (Georgia Tech, led by former Navy coach Paul Johnson, is the other FBS team to use the option as a staple of its offense), and all three teams made bowl games last year despite recruiting disadvantages.

DeBerry’s success at Air Force paved the way.

“People couldn’t stop the triple option,” longtime Air Force associate athletic director Jim Bowman said. “The players weren’t the biggest guys or the fastest guys, but they were the kind of people that could run the option.”

As years went on DeBerry relied on his assistants, who he thanked repeatedly on Tuesday, and became less of an offensive Xs and Os guru and more of a manager of the Air Force program, which he did very well. His personality fit with the academy.

“He always knew more than jsut what the gameplan was for the week,” former Air Force quarterback Beau Morgan said. “I can think of many times when my family, or one of my teammate’s families were in town, and he knew every brother and sister and what they were involved in, and called them by name.

“Winning was important, and that was a reason we were so competitive. Even though the program was built around winning, it was not a win at all costs attitude. I credit all that to Fisher.”

Dick Enga was tight ends coach under Ken Hatfield, then was there through all of DeBerry’s years with the Falcons. He said DeBerry’s enthusiasm and work ethic made for an easy transition from Hatfield. Enga also talked about DeBerry’s kindness and genuine nature.

“As a parent, you sure as heck wanted your kid to go play for a man like that,” Enga said.

Getting talented players is the lifeblood of a college coach’s livelihood, and DeBerry did it well.

“I felt he was an incredible recruiter,” Morgan said. “He had a presence when he came into the house that ‘I want to go play for that guy.’”

Morgan said he was interested in Air Force because he admired former Falcons quarterback Dee Dowis.

“Before Fisher left my house, he said ‘Beau, why don’t you come up here and make people forget about Dee Dowis?’” Morgan said. “He had a way to make you believe he needed you at the academy.”

DeBerry grew into understanding how to deal with the military side of the cadets’ lives, when to pull back or when to push. Morgan said he had a great way of letting his players be individuals without getting away from the team concept. He also said he could be stern, but never belittled players and most of his critical talks came behind closed doors.

“He had a great ability to manage the whole organizational dynamic,” Morgan said.