Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry remembers the six seasons (1984-89) that Charlie Weatherbie served coaching the Falcons quarterbacks and halfbacks with affection and humor.
"Charlie is a wonderful guy and a heck of a coach," said DeBerry. "He tutored two of the best quarterbacks we've had here -- Bart Weiss and Dee Dowis.
"But he had a bit of the gambler in him. He was always trying to put some bug in my ear, like passing the ball across the field on the opening kickoff. Sometimes, I just had to tune him out."
Saturday, when the Falcons (4-2) play Navy (2-3) in Annapolis in their annual inter-service gme, DeBerry will look across the field and see Weatherbie, who was hired this year to energize the Mids' long-ailing program.
"It will be a bit strange," said DeBerry, who has set an example on how to build winning tradition at a service school by posting a 92-54-1 record in his 11-plus seasons with Air Force.
"In all my years here, I've only had seven assistants leave, and four became head coaches. But Charlie is the first one who has ever coached against me."
Saturday's game is much more than a teacher matching wits with one of his brightest students. It also goes beyond the start of competition for the Commander-in-Chief trophy, emblematic of football supremacy among the three service academies.
"I've modeled my coaching style and life after Fisher DeBerry," said Weatherbie, who says that much of his football philosophy is based on his lengthy apprenticeship at Air Force. There are only subtle differences in the way the teams' offenses function as variations of the wishbone.
"Fisher uses a tight end, wingback and slotback, while we use double slots," said Weatherbie. "He's devoted to his system, and makes it work by recruiting suitable talent.
"Success breeds success. It's always easier to recruit to a winning program. Fisher brought stability to the Air Force Academy, and that's what we're trying to do here."
Weatherbie's admiration for his former boss goes beyond his ability to transform X's and O's into W's. He found a kindred spirit in DeBerry's deep religious belief, strong family ties and his positive way of communicating with young athletes.
"You don't go into college coaching for the money," Weatherbie said. "It may sound corny, but you're more concerned with shaping lives. And that is what Fisher DeBerry was all about. And it's the main reason I'm still coaching."
Because of their familiarity, neither coach expects a lot of surprises Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"I don't think there will be too many secrets," said DeBerry, who has beaten the Mids in 10 of his 11 encounters, "although I did see Charlie try to use that cross-field lateral against Virginia Tech last week."
Said Weatherbie: "They use their system about as well as any team in the country, and keep adding new wrinkles. For us to win, we've got to control the ball and keep their offense off the field."
Weatherbie was on the other side of the field when the Falcons beat the Mids six straight years. To beat his mentor now would be especially satisfying.