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Repairing the damage with DeBerry 

If you want to say farewell to Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry sorry, but it'll take a little longer to call him the former head coach you have two apparent choices.

Come Saturday night, at least 400 people will pay $60 a plate at The Broadmoor for the chance to share in a dinner that should not be so exclusive.

Some of them, and others with much more to spend, will fork out $2,000 a foursome for a round of golf Monday to benefit DeBerry's foundation.

That's it. No parade. No public celebration, open to anyone and everyone, preferably with no admission charge.

The guy takes Air Force football to its greatest successes over 23 years, and this is how it ends? This isn't a retirement. This is a painful, sad divorce.

Let's be clear. We're not talking about DeBerry being totally, permanently severed from the academy, his players or new coach Troy Calhoun and staff.

We're talking about DeBerry and the AFA athletic department.

Don't believe it? In organizing the Saturday dinner, DeBerry would not deal with the athletic department and his ex-boss, Hans Mueh. The coach communicated with the office of Lt. Gen. John Regni, the AFA superintendent.

Certainly, the dinner will be memorable. The list of attendees is awe-inspiring, with names including Chad Hennings, Scott Thomas, A.J. Scott, Bart Weiss, Dwan Wilson, Dee Dowis, Rob Perez, Terry Maki, Pat Evans, Ted Sundquist, John Kershner, John Steed, Tom Rotello, Rip Burgwald, JT Tokish and Wake Forest head coach (former AFA assistant) Jim Grobe. The list goes on and on, including such pre-DeBerry Air Force stars as Terry Isaacson, John Lorber, Orderia Mitchell, Jim Dahlmann and Randy Spetman.

There has never been a gathering of so many notable people who contributed to Air Force's football history. Still, it's inadequate. Colorado Springs hasn't had a chance to say a proper goodbye, especially since DeBerry and his wife, LuAnn, will be spending most of the time now between their homes in the Smoky Mountains and on the beach in his native South Carolina.

What's the answer? The academy and the city should plan a spectacular sendoff for the weekend of Air Force's season opener on Sept. 1 against South Carolina State.

First, on that Friday afternoon, DeBerry should be the star of a parade in downtown Colorado Springs, along with as many of his former players and assistant coaches as possible. Later, he could talk to the Falcons and then meet with fans at an open house, perhaps at Phil Long Expo Center near Chapel Hills Mall.

Saturday, DeBerry would be introduced before kickoff and handle the coin toss. Then, at halftime, the coach could address the crowd.

It helps, obviously, that Air Force's first opponent will be South Carolina State, a decent Division I-AA program (7-4 in 2006) but not as tough as last year's opener, Tennessee. Beyond that, DeBerry probably wouldn't want the spotlight for Air Force's other home games, many of which could be daunting.

That's OK. The best time anyway for such festivities would be the first game of the post-DeBerry era. Or, to put it another way, the first game without DeBerry on the Air Force coaching staff since Jimmy Carter was president.

It's not about just recognizing longevity, either. It's about reminding everyone of exactly what DeBerry accomplished: 17 winning seasons, including 12 bowl games; three victories against Notre Dame, including two at South Bend, Ind.; bowl wins against Ohio State, Texas and Washington, among others; capturing the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy 14 times, compiling a 35-11 record against Army and Navy, and winning more games (169) than any service-academy head coach.

One last point: It's a foregone conclusion DeBerry will make one more trip to South Bend when he's inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, which is headquartered there.

Think about all that, and you'll know why Air Force and Colorado Springs should do much more to give Fisher DeBerry the farewell he deserves.

This weekend should be just the appetizer. The academy and the city have four months until that season opener.

Hopefully, the right people can take it from here.

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