May 17, 2011
After receiving the highest honor in his sport, former Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry went to watch some high school baseball with a friend.
He had plans with his longtime Falcons assistant Cal McCombs to see First Baptist, where McCombs’ son is the athletic director, play Dorchester Academy in the South Carolina state high school championship series. Tuesday’s announcement by the National Football Foundation that DeBerry had been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame wasn’t going to change his appointment. After baseball, the plan was to stop for some barbecue on the way home.
“That’s him,” McCombs said. “There’s nothing pretentious about Fisher.”
That’s why DeBerry couldn’t seem to grasp that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. He joins two former Air Force players, defensive lineman Chad Hennings and offensive lineman Brock Strom, in the College Football Hall of Fame. L.T. “Buck” Shaw, who coached two seasons at Air Force, is also in the hall. DeBerry repeatedly used the word “overwhelming” as he talked about the honor, and considered the group of great coaches he joins in the hall.
“To be with those guys is overwhelming for a country boy from a little ol’ country town in South Carolina,” DeBerry said.
DeBerry said he got the news from fellow Hall-of-Famer Hennings on Monday night. He was overwhelmed by the honor and overwhelmed Tuesday when his phone wouldn’t stop ringing. He said he had talked to 30 people by early Tuesday evening and couldn’t return all his messages in a week.
DeBerry’s Hall-of-Fame career has always been grounded in modest roots, from his hometown of Cheraw, S.C., (population of about 5,500) to his playing career at small Wofford College. He coached for six years at the high school level before landing assistant coach jobs at Wofford and Appalachian State. His break came when he was hired to be Air Force’s quarterbacks coach in 1980. He was promoted to offensive coordinator a year later, and after Ken Hatfield left after the 1983 season, Air Force decided to give DeBerry his first college head coaching job.
“He helped turn this program around,” said Jim Bowman, a retired Air Force associate athletic director who was involved with hiring DeBerry as head coach. “Coach DeBerry getting into the College Football Hall of Fame is well deserved. And I’m not surprised he got in, because everybody likes him.”
DeBerry won 169 games in his 23 seasons as Falcons coach. He has the most wins of any coach in service academy football history.
“He meant more than Xs and Os and wins and losses,” Hennings said last week. “He molded us as men and had an impact that went beyond what happened on the practice field or at Falcon Stadium on game day.”
He will be officially inducted during the annual awards dinner Dec. 6 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, and DeBerry joked about the event.
“It’ll cost me a lot of money,” DeBerry said. “I have to buy my wife a new dress now.”
DeBerry kept giving credit to his former players, the assistants on his staffs, the fans at Air Force, even the support he got from the city of Colorado Springs. His election to the Hall of Fame is a big deal for Air Force, and he saved special thanks for the academy.
“All the credit and pride goes to the academy,” DeBerry said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the academy.”