Published: May 9, 2013
Troy Calhoun recalls the first time he met Fisher DeBerry with vivid clarity.
It was a Sunday, the fourth night of basic training, and Calhoun sat in a hall with fellow future cadets who had no hair, hadn't been in contact with their families and had been up well before 5 a.m. for several consecutive days.
In walks DeBerry, who informed Calhoun and the others just how lucky they were to be at the academy.
'We thought, 'How in the world can this guy think we're lucky?' ' Calhoun said.
The fact is, DeBerry truly believed it. And it was his enthusiasm for the academy - not just the football side of it - that allowed him to put together a 23-year run as head coach that included 169 wins, 12 bowl games and national Coach of the Year honors in 1985 after leading the team to the No. 5 ranking in the final poll.
DeBerry's career will be honored again Saturday night, as he headlines the six-member fourth class to be inducted into the Air Force Athletic Hall of Fame at the Colorado Springs Marriott.
'It's not about me, ' DeBerry said. 'It's a great tribute to the former players, the former coaches and all the support people that we had that made things happen. I was just glad to be able to drive the bus. It wasn't anything I did, I can assure you. '
But to his former players - including Calhoun, who succeeded DeBerry with the Falcons - it was, in fact, something he did. And who he was.
'He just absolutely embraced the mission of the academy, and he knew that was the driver rather than football, ' Calhoun said. 'I think because of the kind of commitment he had to develop officer candidates first, that's why he was able to run one heck of a college football program within some very, very challenging demands.
'You just kind of knew right away, he had great enthusiasm and you just got the sense he was a father figure and someone who really cared. '
DeBerry came to Air Force first as the quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator under Ken Hatfield. His decision to leave Appalachian State for Colorado Springs was made in part because of the opportunities the position would provide for his young children.
'I knew they would have an opportunity to interact with some of the finest young people in America, ' he said. 'I knew they would have a positive influence on their life, and that certainly proved to be so. '
Looking back on his career, DeBerry points out with pride examples like a former player who is a college president. He loves that so many players have entered coaching - from high school to the NFL - which is something that didn't happen before he arrived.
DeBerry splits his time between homes in Charleston, S.C., and Grove, Okla., dedicating much of his efforts to working with his foundation to provide resources for single-parent families. He has been instrumental in giving thousands of dollars for kids in Colorado, Georgia and the Carolinas to assist with camps, clothing, tutors and equipment.
That enthusiasm hasn't waned. He's as happy as ever that he spent such a large chunk of his life at Air Force. Opportunities - more financially lucrative - presented themselves, but they wouldn't have fit as well. He was lucky to be where he was, and he knew it.
'There aren't any utopias in coaching, ' he said. 'Like right now, everybody's changing conferences, going different directions just so they can make more money. Hey, there are problems with every program, every situation. But you try to make a positive out of everything you do. So, like I told Troy and his class that year, 'Hey, you have a great opportunity.' We're going to go to bowl games and we're going to compete for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy and some years we're going to be in line to compete for a national championship. That's what we're going to do.
'Of course, it's a lot bigger than that. It's just really great to see the things kids have done with their lives and I think football has been very instrumental in that. I just love the academy. '