By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
Editor's Note: College Sports Journal is celebrating the release earlier this month of the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame by offering several past articles in its CSJ Classic series. This article originally ran in the College Sporting News on May 18, 2011 and highlights the coaching career of former Wofford player and coach and Appalachian State assistant Fisher DeBerry on his election to the College Football Hall of Fame. It points out that DeBerry should be remembered for his impact on FCS, in addition to his work at Air Force.
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — It is easy to overlook history when you are focusing on the here and now and when the subject is football, it becomes even more commonplace for fans to forget how the past has effected the present and will impact the future.
I thought about such things when I learned on Tuesday that retired coach Fisher DeBerry had been elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
It was my pleasure to vote for DeBerry this year. You can read about my 2011 Hall of Fame ballot here:
Most football fans remember DeBerry for his great work as the Air Force Academy head coach from 1984-2006, where he compiled a record of 169-109-1 (60.8%), with 17 winning seasons in 23 years, and took the Falcons to three Western Athletic Conference championships and 12 bowl games.
DeBerry also helped the Falcons win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy 14 times as he rolled up a 35-11 lifetime record in his annual battles with Army and Navy.
He was also named national coach of the year in 1985 when he guided Air Force to a 12-1 record, a No. 8 national ranking in the final Associated Press poll and a Bluebonnet Bowl win over Texas.
But if you focus only on DeBerry's Football Bowl Subdivision success, you miss his rich contributions to the Football Championship Subdivision.
DeBerry played football at tiny Wofford College under one of the more under-appreciated coaches of my generation, Jim Brakefield, and went on to serve a defining apprenticeship under this football master as an assistant at Wofford and Appalachian State.
That tenure occurred when Wofford was still an NAIA school and when ASU was toiling away in the Division I ranks, before the split of I-A and I-AA. But his influence is still felt at Wofford, Appalachian State and many other FCS outposts even today.
By the time that Brakefield and DeBerry arrived in Boone, N.C., they had put their stamp on the wishbone offense in a way that still influences college football.
"Brakefield ran the wishbone better than anyone at the time," said former ASU quarterback Steve Brown, when Brown was interviewed for my 2007 book "Magic on the Mountain, Appalachian State's Amazing Journey to the 2005 NCAA I-AA Football Championship."
Brown set most of the Mountaineer passing records, many since broken by Richie Williams and Armanti Edwards as they led ASU to three consecutive national championships from 2005-07.
But the remarkable thing is that Brown piled up up most of his 6,533 yards passing and 7,129 yards of total offense (many of those yards on passes to a great receiver named Rick Beasley) from 1978-80 at the helm of what most people thought was a run-oriented formation.
Brakefield and DeBerry found ways to utilize the skills of Brown and Beasley to the fullest. They designed numerous plays that gave the speedy and elusive Brown a pass-run option — a rather unusual adaptation for an offensive set that usually featured two halfbacks, a fullback and little passing.
DeBerry had been a defensive coach early in his career, but his coaching marriage with Brakefield led to his switch to offensive coordinator, where his defensive insights helped him to break down the defenses the Mountaineers faced by creating mismatches.
"DeBerry was like a mad scientist," Brown said. "He was always coming up with something new."
For those wanting a more in-depth view on how that Brakefield and DeBerry influenced option football, particularly in the Southern Conference, here is a column on that subject from 2010:
DeBerry became so adept at directing the wishbone for Brakefield that he began to get invitations to speak at clinics around the country. He spoke at places like West Point, Oklahoma and Air Force.
His work with Air Force blossomed into a strong friendship with then-Falcon coach Ken Hatfield and when Hatfield moved to Arkansas for the 1984 season, DeBerry became the obvious choice to replace him.
Among the current and former DeBerry proteges to make their marks in FCS were Buddy Sasser of East Tennessee State, Paul Hamilton of ETSU and Elon, VMI's Cal McCombs and Mike Ayers, who was the head coach at ETSU before finding his niche at Wofford.
DeBerry still is an active member in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and served as the president of the American Football Coaches Association. He and his wife, LuAnn, have also put plenty of energy into charitable organizations, including Easter Seals and the March of Dimes.
DeBerry, who has two children and five grandchildern, have retired to the town of Grove, Ok., but they are far from inactive. The DeBerry family formed the Fisher DeBerry Foundation, which helps children of single-parent families, in 2004.
Ironically, DeBerry will go into the Hall of Fame with one other FBS coach, longtime Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
You have to wonder if one of the topics of discussion will be Appalachian State's 34-32 victory in 2007 over Carr and Michigan, one of just 40 losses suffered by Carr in his 13-year career as the Wolverine head coach.
The National Football Foundation will announce its selections from the FCS, Division II and III and NAIA ranks later this spring. Among the candidates expected to get strong consideration are former Appalachian State linebacker and two-time Buchanan Award winner Dexter Coakley, James Madison linebacker Charles Haley, and Northern Arizona running back and Payton Award winner Archie Amerson.
Hopefully, DeBerry will have plenty of players with FCS roots to join him at the induction ceremonies this summer.