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Todd Berry to step down as AFCA executive director

The former Illinois State, Army and ULM head coach will celebrate his 40th year in college football this fall as he begins the transition process to find the AFCA's next leader.

Todd Berry will step down as AFCA executive director in January 2024, Berry confirmed to FootballScoop on Tuesday. Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated first reported the news.

Berry has led the AFCA since 2016. He replaced College Football Hall of Fame coach Grant Teaff, who led the organization from 1993 through '16.

Berry, 61, celebrates his 40th season in college football this fall. The son of former NCAA and CFL head coach Reuben Berry, the younger Berry's career began at Tennessee in 1983.

He worked at 12 institutions, serving as the head coach at Illinois State from 1996-99, Army from 2000-03, and then at ULM from 2010-15. His 1999 Illinois State team won the Missouri Valley Football Conference and reached the Division I-AA semifinals, and in 2012 he presided over the best season in ULM history, going 8-5 with an overtime win at No. 8 Arkansas and an Independence Bowl appearance.

Berry joined the AFCA in 1984 and entered the organization's leadership in 2001, when he joined the board of trustees. He was the AFCA's First Vice-President when he became the organization's fifth executive director in 2016. 

Berry informed the board of trustees in May and has spent the spring and summer informing coaches. He'll serve through the 2022 and '23 seasons before handing the proverbial football to his successor at the 2024 AFCA convention that January. As part of his roll with the AFCA, Berry sits on numerous committees inside and outside the NCAA. 

In college football's leader-less structure, the next AFCA executive director must work to build consensus among the game's various factions as it rapidly hurdles toward a new era. The next AFCA leader will have to navigate the NCAA rewriting its constitution as that organization actively abdicates its authority to write and enforce the rules that govern the game, the ongoing push to write and implement federal legislations for Name, Image and Likeness, plus a new College Football Playoff format set to begin in 2026.

"Someone's going to need to be actively engaged with the NCAA and possibly with the other entities, where everyone's in the loop," Berry told FootballScoop. "The AFCA needs to have input. I think that some of the problems we currently have, quite honestly, because you have people outside of the industry that are making decisions. I don't think we coaches need to have free reign over college football. We're here to assist the athletes and the universities. Athletics directors, university presidents, commissioners and the AFCA should all sit down together and make decisions that are good for the game. 

Asked to list his biggest accomplishments in six seasons on the job, Berry listed navigating through the COVID season of 2020 -- Berry survived a serious bout with COVID-19 this spring -- and the passage of the 4-game redshirt rule. That rule, Berry explained, was born out of personal experience dating back more than two decades.

As his 1999 Illinois State team advanced through the Division I-AA playoffs, Berry's Redbirds ran out of able-bodied defensive linemen. Berry approached redshirting freshman Jeff Weese about playing in the approaching semifinal game against Georgia Southern. "He was talented player. His senior year, if he was able to sit out a year, would have been significant," Berry said. "He was that kind of player."

Weese played in that game, sacrificing a year of his eligibility for 20 snaps in a game his team wound up losing. "I just thought, 'This is the most unfair thing ever to have to ask a player to do,'" Berry said. "I took a victory lap around my coffee table when that rule passed."

Berry plans to take time to enjoy some well-earned relaxation and cross items off his bucket list once he formally steps away 18 months from now, but he did not rule out a return to coaching at a lower level down the road. 

"I love the game for what it teaches and what it represents," he said. "Winston Churchill said courage is the greatest of all virtues because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other. I learned that from football. Any time I didn't think I could take another step, I always did. Pretty sure you learn the only limits are the ones you preconceived in your mind. I learned that from football."