San Diego State take on Indiana tonight at 9:40 EST, and the North County Times’ Mike Sullivan recalls State coach Steve Fisher’s unlikely title run 17 years ago.
Mark Hughes was there when it all began against Xavier in the 1989 NCAA tournament. He was captain of the Michigan squad that became coach-less on the eve of the tourney when Bill Frieder took the Arizona State job and then-athletic director Bo Schembechler angrily announced that only a ‘Michigan Man’ would coach the Wolverines.
Steve Fisher was promoted on an interim basis two days prior to the first-round contest. In reality, the loyal assistant coach was there to keep the seat warm until a search could be conducted after the tournament.
“When he took over, not only did we want to win for Michigan and for ourselves,” said Hughes, “but we wanted to win for Coach Fisher because we knew it was a great opportunity for him.”
Six games later, the Wolverines’ search wasn’t stretching out any further than the team bench.
Michigan was national champions after the Fisher-guided squad defeated Seton Hall in overtime.
If not for that title run, there’s no telling how Fisher’s career would’ve played out. He might not be employed at San Diego State and preparing for an NCAA first-round matchup against Indiana on Thursday.
“I don’t know what Coach Schembechler had in mind,” said Hughes, now an Aztecs assistant coach. “I don’t know if he had a guy that he wanted to give the job to but he gave Coach Fisher an opportunity and he seized it.
“Who knows what would’ve happened if we didn’t win? But I do know that Michigan made the right choice.”
Time has proven that San Diego State did as well when it hired Fisher in the spring of 1999 to rebuild a destitute program wallowed in defeat after defeat. The Aztecs were the Death Valley of college basketball and the uphill climb couldn’t be handed to someone scared of scaling rocky terrain.
Of course, had Michigan hired someone else and not advanced to defeat Seton Hall in the final, the career trajectory of PJ Carlesimo might’ve included something other than being strangled by Latrell Sprewell. And had Fisher not been nearly as successful (depending on how you define it) in recruiting the Fab Five to Ann Arbor, there’s a swath of 15 years of pro and college basketball that might’ve turned out differently.