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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Go Fish

There was an article on former Michigan basketball coach Steve Fisher in the March 14 Chicago Tribune written by Mike Downey (if you grew up reading the Detroit Free Press and fondly recall Downey's unique wit and style, don't read him now---he's really lost his fastball.)

The article led me to think about Fisher, memorably dubbed a "Michigan Man" by Bo in the bizarre pre-1989 NCAA Tournament episode that began when Bill Frieder accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State (though thankfully without any of the now seemingly requisite Sun Devil sexual shenanigans.) Fisher then led the Wolverines to six straight victories in the tourney, including thrilling wins in the Final Four over Illinois (which had trounced Michigan twice in the regular season) and Seton Hall.

My favorite Fisher-related memory from that amazing run came during the post-championship-game interview, when Rumeal Robinson (who hit the game winning free throws despite having a poor ft percentage) excitedly pointed out how it had been the then-assistant Fisher who had spent so much time with him working on his free throw shooting throughout the season. Fisher then quickly and humbly deflected the praise back to Robinson.

My first personal exposure Fisher came when I was a camper at the Bill Frieder Basketball Camp in the early eighties. Though named for Frieder, the camp was run by Fisher. Ironically, the man who later was justifiably canned for losing control of his program was best known by me and my fellow campers for his southern Illinois-accented admonishment: "If there's a problem in the dorms, I want to know about it!" Of course, the Ed Martins of the world weren't exactly beating down South Quad doors to hand out money to a bunch of adolescents, most of whose playing careers would soon flounder on JV benches across the Midwest.

While a student at Michigan my experience with Fisher (as well as those I knew who dealt with him more closely) reinforced my view that he was a very decent person. He was rarely if ever considered a great coach, though his fall and recent rise may change how he will be remembered, as indicated in these interesting pieces from the New York Times and the Voice of San Diego.

As noted, Fisher deserved to be dismissed from Michigan, and his failure to properly oversee the program will remain an important part of his legacy. But I don't think it should define it. I will be cheering for Fisher and his San Diego State team on Thursday and not just because they are playing Indiana. I will be cheering for him because he was a Michigan Man and more importantly, he is a good man.

1 comment:

Wangs said...

Yost - sorry I missed this piece when it was first posted. I agree with you completely. Fisher seemed like a good man who maybe looked the other way when he shouldn't have. For that he paid a huge price, but I don't think it changes the fact that he is fundamentally a good Michigan man.

At the other end are Chris Webber and the players who personally profited by breaking the rules.

And somewhere in between is Mitch Albom, who wrote an entire book about the Fab Five, but missed the story completely.