Steve Fisher is retiring.
The legendary coach who revived San Diego State’s moribund basketball program is stepping down after 18 seasons leading the Aztecs, a senior administrator confirmed to Yahoo Sports. Fisher, 72, will be succeeded by longtime coach-in-waiting Brian Dutcher.
Fisher’s head coaching career began on the eve of the 1989 NCAA tournament when Michigan coach Bill Frieder revealed that he had agreed to become Arizona State’s next coach. Frieder expected to remain with the Wolverines through the end of the postseason, but Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler famously banished him from the program out of anger and elevated Fisher from assistant to head coach.
Schembechler had no intention of making anyone associated with Frieder the permanent head coach, but Fisher had recruited many of Michigan’s best players and had the respect and admiration of the locker room. The idea of winning for Fisher inspired players because they knew a Final Four run or a championship was the only way he might keep the job.
Michigan’s run started innocuously with a 92-87 first-round victory over 14th-seeded Xavier in a game the Musketeers led deep into the second half. Momentum gradually built in the coming days as the Wolverines defeated South Alabama in the round of 32, outlasted North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and pounded Virginia in the Elite Eight.
At the Final Four in Seattle, Michigan got revenge on Big Ten nemesis Illinois in the semifinals on a game-winning put-back from Sean Higgins and edged Seton Hall in the title game on a pair of late free throws by Rumeal Robinson.
Awarded the permanent gig at Michigan after the title run, Fisher recruited the famed Fab 5 to Michigan and twice led Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson within a victory of a national championship. Michigan lost to Duke in the 1992 title game and to North Carolina a year later.
Michigan fired Fisher in 1997 after an investigation surfaced surrounding the actions of booster Ed Martin. Fisher did not face any individual sanctions from the NCAA after denying any wrongdoing or knowledge of Martin’s involvement with his players.
When San Diego State hired Fisher in 1999, the Aztecs were coming off their 13th losing season in 14 years. Basketball at San Diego State was such an afterthought in those days that Fisher would hand out free tickets on campus on game days yet the Aztecs still would be lucky to draw a couple thousand people.
Gradually Fisher attracted standouts like Kawhi Leonard, Jamaal Franklin and Xavier Thames to San Diego State and elevated the Aztecs to national relevance. They reached the NCAA tournament six straight times from 2010-2015, they made the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2014 and they have won 19 or more games every year since 2006.
While last season was San Diego State’s worst since at least 2008, Fisher leaves his longtime assistant Dutcher with a strong roster.
Almost every key player from an underachieving 19-win Aztecs team is expected back to be part of San Diego State’s first season without Fisher.
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