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College Football

Death of a Priest and a Salesman

Rarely do four tenured coaches leave their schools in the same year.

First it was Barry Alvarez, who announced in July that this, his 16th season, would be his final at Wisconsin. Then it was Bill Snyder, who retired after 17 years from Kansas State just this past week. But there is no word yet on Fisher DeBerry of Air Force and Ken Hatfield of Rice. The previous infringed on the rights of his players and should be fired, while the latter made derogatory comments three years ago without paying the price.Fisher DeBerry’s actions over the past six months have provoked both Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, the two winningest Division 1-A coaches in history, to speak out on his behalf.

In July, the Air Force Academy’s football team was being probed for excess enforcement of religion. DeBerry had mandated prayer in the locker room, but according to the investigation and DeBerry’s statement, these prayers were voluntary and that he would get rid of the prayer altogether.

This is only two months after he told a local newspaper that, “this is our foundation and this is what we’re all about in Falcon football. I don’t think you separate religion from normal, everyday life. Religion is a part of life. Football, academics, military training — everything.”

Additionally, DeBerry never apologized for his comments, stating, “I apologize to no one for what I believe.” This was the only time he used the word “apology” in any form in his statement. He concluded by saying, “I understand how those actions could have been misconstrued. That won’t happen again.”

Yes, declaring that Falcon football is founded on religion does allow people to “misconstrue” that you force religion down your player’s throats.

And the statement released by DeBerry ignored the poster that he had to remove from the locker room. It stated, “I am a Christian first and last. I am created in the likeness of God Almighty to bring Him Glory. I am a member of Team Jesus Christ. I wear the colors of the cross.” To boot, DeBerry hung this poster last year a day after the academy’s Superintendent announced that it would try to fight religious intolerance.

That is not mandated religion? That is not a blatant disregard to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? That is not the government establishing religion, considering that the Air Force Academy is a governmental organ?

Or how about that every Saturday after a game DeBerry would say, “Go to church tomorrow?”

This man clearly has an agenda and is preaching it at the Air Force Academy, yet he did not even get a slap on the back. In fact, he gets Bobby Bowden to run to his rescue, speaking out that what DeBerry did was fine.

And of course Bobby would.

Considering that each year for the past 30 seasons he has taken his team to a church in a black community and a church in a white community to build team camaraderie under the pretense that it was “voluntary”.

Is that why he has had only remember one or two students ever skipping the outing, even though he stated, “I’ve had atheists, Jews, Catholics and Muslims play for me, and I’ve never not started a boy because of his faith.”? If atheists on your team, amongst other non-Christians, have gone to these services in almost perfect attendance, obviously somewhere it has come off as being “mandatorilly voluntary.”

But just when Fisher DeBerry had fallen out of the limelight, he blamed his team’s loss to Texas Christian on a lack of “minority athletes in our program.”

First off Fisher, maybe if you didn’t mandate religion so much you’d have religious minorities.

Second off, you then elaborated the following day, stating “It just seems to be that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well. That doesn’t mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can’t run, but it’s very obvious to me they run extremely well.”

Sure, he apologized this time, and sure, he is correct, but is that something a coach should say? Is that something a once-highly respected collegiate coach should say to the media?

Yet, DeBerry emerged still with his job for the time being, just like he had in July.

But there is a difference now: DeBerry has just completed the second-worst season in his 22-year tenure. As well, he has now had consecutive losing seasons for the first time. He has not produced on the field.

And mix in his insensitivity off the field and you get a coach who should be fired.

However, DeBerry is a mature adult compared to what Ken Hatfield said against homosexuality three years ago.

Hatfield was quoted as saying that if a player came out to him, he would probably say, “What happened? What changed since we recruited you? When did this come about?”

No wonder no player had come out to Hatfield as of the end of the 2002 season, his 9th at Rice and 36th as a collegiate coach.

He also stated that, “God desires His children to lead pure lives of holiness…. Neither heterosexual acts outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God.” He adds that homosexuality is “sexual sin” and that he’d consider kicking a player off the team if he found out that he was gay.

The story received little national attention and got swept under the rug when Hatfield apologized afterwards.

Hatfield also had to survive a recruiting scandal in which it was found that athletes were brought to strip clubs with players while on recruiting visits. Sure, Hatfield may or may not have known that this was going on, but he should have stepped up and silenced it instead of remarking that, “There’s no doubt that a satisfied customer is your best salesman.”

He meant the satisfied customer to be a current Rice student selling the school to the possible recruit, but why say that? It has a double meaning and it is unnecessary to say anything to defend your school’s policy of letting possible recruits stay with current players. This was just stupidity on Hatfield’s part.

But now is the time to get rid of Hatfield. Rice fell to 1-9 on Saturday, clinching the worst record in the 12 years since Hatfield arrived in Houston. Rice has managed three winning seasons in those years and a share of the SWC title in 1994 with a 5-6 mark. Of course, basically the entire conference shared it that year thanks to a five-way tie.

And now Rice has suffered its fourth consecutive losing season.

This guy does not deserve to coach college students, yet he has survived for twelve years of losing despite what he said and a recruiting scandal.

For the smallest college in Division 1-A, how can they fit this guy’s narrow-minded views on their campus? He is a waste of space.

Barry Alvarez and Bill Snyder each made noble exits after historic stays at their respective schools, but can the same be said for Fisher DeBerry and the man who preceded him at Air Force, Ken Hatfield?

Both men have proven through comments off the field that they should not coach college students and both have struggled on the field in winning. Neither man should be in a job next year.

So I beg both schools to look long at hard at their two head football coaches and hopefully they will then see that a change needs to be made.

As far as I’m concerned, it better. As far as history goes, it probably won’t.

“And God said, `Let there be a change,’ and DeBerry and Hatfield were fired.”

That would be the only justice.

By bsd987

I have written for SportsColumn.com since 2004 and was named a featured writer in 2006. I have been Co-Editor of the site since January 1, 2009. I also write for BleacherReport.com where I am a founding member of the Tennis Roundtable and one of the chief contributors to both the Tennis and Horse Racing sections.

I am "Stat Boy" for Sportscolumn.com's weekly podcast, Poor Man's PTI.

I am currently a Junior at Rice University majoring in History and Medieval Studies. My senior thesis will focus on the desegregation of football in Texas and its affect of racial relations.

Please direct all inquiries to [email protected].

Thanks,
Burton DeWitt
Co-Editor of Sportscolumn.com

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