NORMAN, Okla. These days, Fisher DeBerry prefers to stay at a distance as he keeps an eye on the Air Force program he built.
DeBerry doesnt want Troy Calhoun, one of the starting quarterbacks from his 23-year tenure as the Falcons head coach, putting up with questions about what his predecessor would have done. After 44 years in football, he made a clean break and moved out of town after his retirement from Air Force in 2006.
I told him its his baby, and I wouldnt be calling, DeBerry said. Its his program, and he needed to put his stamp on it. ... I think it was about time to get out of the shadows and let them do their thing.
Given the chance to see his old team without needing to travel far from his lakeside home in Oklahoma, DeBerry isnt about to pass up that opportunity. He plans to watch the Falcons (2-0) play in person when they visit No. 7 Oklahoma (2-0) on Saturday.
The last time he attended an Air Force game was Oct. 17, 2009, when the Falcons won 10-0 at home against Wyoming.
Hes not exactly sure what sort of interaction hell have with Calhoun or the handful of players left he had a hand in recruiting. The 72-year-old DeBerry doesnt want to interfere or be a distraction when Air Force could have a chance at a big win, but he still has a passion for the program where he went 169-109-1 and went to 12 bowl games.
DeBerry now splits time between homes in his native South Carolina and alongside Grand Lake in Grove, where hes near his children and grandchildren in the Tulsa area. The lake only is about 30 yards from his back door, and he can hop in a golf cart and be at the pro shop in less than 5 minutes.
DeBerry said he devotes most of his time to his family and to his foundation, which helps single-parent families. He occasionally returns to Colorado for fundraisers, and hes written a book The Power of Influence to benefit the foundation. Hell also make speeches for another favorite cause, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
On Fridays, he often can be found watching his grandson play quarterback for a team of home-schooled children in northeastern Oklahoma. On Saturdays, hes either attending games in person or watching on TV from the morning until whenever his wife chases him off to bed.
Itll be his second consecutive week making the trip to Owen Field. He was a guest of Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman, the former Air Force AD, last Saturday.
Calhoun also is familiar with the state and the university. He was stationed for three years at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City and volunteered for the Sooners, breaking down game film.
Its just super people, honest, straightforward. Theyre good workers, Calhoun said. They like their football a little bit, too.
DeBerry said he keeps up with the Falcons and tries to send Calhoun an encouraging e-mail each week. The two also occasionally talk by phone, and Calhoun has kept some of the basics of DeBerrys successful triple-option attack in whats now a more expansive offense.
Its totally different than the last Air Force team we played and beat 44-3 (in 2001), Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. It was a different coaching staff. Much more multiple, much better much better football team than the last time we played them. ... Its no-huddle and fast-paced and a million formations, where before (it was) much more traditional, a couple formations.
Air Force leads the nation with 423 yards rushing per game heading into the second meeting between the two teams. Oklahoma was playing its first game since winning the national title when they first met in the 2001 season opener in Colorado.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops said one thing he remembers most about that trip is how his players stopped celebrating to admire how Air Forces players sang the school fight song with fans even after the loss, and how DeBerry who hed always looked up to said he appreciated the gesture.
If youre in the coaching fraternity, you respect a guy like Fisher DeBerry his long tenure of success in doing it the right way and with such class, Stoops said.
Looking back, DeBerry said he reflects less on the success he had than on the people that made it happen. Hes proud when he sees his former assistants and players doing well.
I dont remember much about the games, he said. But I can tell you about every kid that played.