DENVER (AP) – Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry met the academy’s new superintendent for the first time Wednesday, and found himself being reprimanded, but not fired, for statements he made about black athletes and recruiting.

The 67-year-old coach, known for his folksy, disarming charm and his homespun sayings, found himself in an imbroglio over political correctness for the second time in less than 12 months.

Last time, it was about religion in the locker room. This time, it was about black football players – or the lack of them – at the academy.

After his meeting with Lt. Gen. John Regni, DeBerry, who is suffering through a 3-5 season this year, issued an apology at a news conference.

“I realize the things I said might have been hurtful to many people and I want everyone to understand that I never intended to offend anyone,” DeBerry said.

On Tuesday, in discussing last weekend’s 48-10 loss to TCU, DeBerry said it was clear TCU “had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did.”

“It just seems to me to be that way,” he said. “Afro-American kids can run very well. That doesn’t mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can’t run, but it’s very obvious to me that they run extremely well.”

DeBerry first discussed the topic Monday, telling The Gazette of Colorado Springs the academy needed to recruit faster players and noting, “you don’t see many minority athletes in our program.”

He said he realized he had erred as he was driving back to campus from his weekly luncheon with the media Tuesday.

DeBerry said he had no plans on stepping down after this latest public embarrassment. Athletic director Hans Mueh, who took DeBerry to Regni’s house, said the academy “has a zero-tolerance policy for any racial or ethnic discrimination or discrimination of any kind.”

Nonetheless, Mueh said the coach would not lose his job.

Air Force made two seniors, one white and one black, available after practice. Both said they were not offended by the coach’s statement.

“We, as a team, didn’t think he meant anything by it,” said receiver Jason Brown, who is black. “He’s not that kind of person. I personally wasn’t offended. I think people saw today how sincere he was and he didn’t mean anything by it.”

Center John Wilson, who is white, said last week’s loss had nothing to do with the ethnic makeup of the team.

“There are 250 guys on the team and there is not one player that was offended,” by DeBerry’s statements, Wilson said.

DeBerry took a few questions at the news conference after making his initial apology. At times, it wasn’t quite clear whether he was apologizing for what he said, and the ideas they conveyed, or merely for his word choice.

“I feel like maybe a couple of terms I used should not have been used in any remarks I made to anybody,” he said. “If I offended anyone by using the term “Afro-American,’ or “minorities,’ then I certainly did it not to offend anyone. I think people know me well enough. I think people know my heart. I think my players know me and how I care about people. I used a couple of terms that don’t reflect the standards and expectations and direction in our recruiting.”

Asked what, exactly, was wrong with saying that blacks run very well, DeBerry replied: “I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. We have some Caucasian players that run very, very well, also. My choice of words, I probably should have said “players,’ rather than expressing a particular ethnic group.”

This episode comes about a year after DeBerry was asked to remove a banner from the locker room that displayed the “Competitor’s Creed,” including the lines “I am a Christian first and last … I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.”

DeBerry’s misstep came as the academy deals with allegations of religious intolerance. The Air Force issued new guidelines directing leaders to be more sensitive to diversity after evangelical Christians were accused of harassing cadets who hold other beliefs.

Mueh said DeBerry, who has won 164 games in his 22 years as head coach at Air Force, shouldn’t be remembered for his latest mistake. The AD credited DeBerry for wanting to make a public apology.

“This is a great man, a great American,” Mueh said. “For him to come forward and admit he made this mistake – it was a serious, serious inappropriate comment – it was a great first step.”

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