Page 12 -The Michigan Daily - Friday, March 16, 1990
'Most of us have talked and we want to go
out as Mark Hughes and Glen Rice did as
seniors. We're going to give an all out effort
no matter what happens and just have it in
the back of our mind that this could be our
last ball game.'
-Michigan co-captain Terry Mills
'There is no more 'we'll get them next
time.' For our senior starters, they play until
they lose or until they win six games. That's
incentive and that's pressure.
-- Michigan coach Steve Fishes
He only scored 56 points while playing a rather undistinguished career at
And he has the extreme gall to joke, "I'm extra mad
at them because they didn't retire my jersey."
Mike Then again, this April, the Normal, Illinois
SGilluniversity will honor him at a banquet for distinguished
It is safe to say that Michigan coach Steve Fisher
will not be honored for the 56 points he scored, the 2.8
points-per-game scoring average he accumulated, or the
18-of-30 free throws he sunk during the two years
(1965-67) he played as a reserve guard on the Redbird
basketball team. Instead, he is being recognized for what
he aspires to do this year and attained last year, a
national championship - which would mean knocking
his alma mater out of college basketball's biggest party
.. It is safe to say that since Fisher's days at Illinois
State, things have drastically changed - for him and
"I came in the fall of '63 and they had just changed the name from Ill-
inois State Normal University to Illinois State University," Fisher remem-
bers. "I was in a 10:00 calculus class where I could look out the window and
see the finishing touches they were putting on Horton Field House. It now
is no good. It is too old and decrepit for the modern basketball arena.
They've got a new one (the 10,200 seat Redbird Arena) that I think they
opened last year. So I saw a lot of changes take place at Illinois State when
I went there. It went from a strictly teacher's college to a major university."
To say Fisher was a highly-touted, highly recruited high school athlete
would be making a trout out of a tadpole. From a small hometown in
southern Illinois called Herrin, (population 10,000), Fisher had seen the cap-
tain of the school team head to Missouri a year earlier. He figured he would
do the same.
His final year in high school basketball had been troublesome. "I was a
pretty good player and then I hurt my knee my senior year, four games into
the season," Fisher recalls. "It turned out to be an entire tear of the anterior
cruciate. But I didn't even know that until (Michigan team doctor) Gerry
O'Connor took cartilage out about five years ago.
"It cost me a great part of my senior year. I came back and tried to play
too quickly, reinjured it, then I sat until early February and played the last
month of the season. I thought I was going to go to Missouri. I had been
there a few times and I thought that was where I was going to wind up. But
I went to Illinois State instead."
Illinois State athletics now competes in Division I, instead of Division
II as in Fisher's days. School enrollment has almost doubled to 20,000
since Fisher spent time on the campus.
And while his school has grown, Fisher has come from a sparingly-used
reserve guard who aspired to be a high school teacher and coach on the
Redbirds' 1967 Final Four team of the NCAA's college division, to the
coach of one of the most prominent basketball programs in the country.
Cinderella Feeling Still There
This is an odd time to celebrate an anniversary in college basketball. But
this week marks the first anniversary of the day that changed Fisher's life
forever. Bill Frieder shockingly left Ann Arbor and his basketball team to
take the head coaching job at Arizona State. Shortly after, then-athletic
director Bo Schembechler namea Fisher as interim head coach of the
Wolverines with the pronouncement: "I want a Michigan man coaching a
With their tre head coach somewhere in the desert, the expectations for
the Wolverines sauntered somewhere between the slim and none line to even
get past the first round. They did.
And they made it past the second too. This is as far as Frieder had ever
brought his team, so fans figured Frieder's leaving didn't cost them
anything. And support grew for a man portrayed as quiet, but in control, and
bursting with love and positive words for his players.
Now, one year later, it still seems impossible. Sure, as the tournament
mountain stood in front of them, and the emotional excitement of the
moment grew, one could easily call it a Cinderella story. But now a year has
passed. And for some reason, the magical feeling that tickles the soul is still
there when recalling the events of last March and early April. Steve Fisher
won himself into the hearts of the state of Michigan and returned with a
It still seems like a fairy tale. It still smells like Cinderella. It still
smells like the train in the book, "The Little Engine That Could." And it
still seems like someone should be pinching you to wake you from that
maize and blue dream.
"It seems like it was light years away and yet it seems like it seemed like
yesterday all in the same breath," Fisher says. "We went in last year on a
lick and a prayer not knowing what to expect. Maybe that's the best way to
By the time the the 1989-90 campaign rolled around, the high could no
longer be sustained. People remembered that a tournament lasted only six
games. Fisher would have to prove himself again.
Could he recruit?
Could he coach through a season? Could he keep a team together when
they aren't bound together by the emotion of the moment?
The immediate answer on recruiting is "no," but if Indiana prep-star Eric
Steve Fisher went from a
little-used guard at Illinois
State to Michigan coach
have blown Fisher's way. He makes $25,000 to talk on the radio with
WJR's J.P. McCarthy in the morning. Last year, he made $44,000 as an
assistant coach. He now earns close to $100,000.
Yet, when Fisher grabbed lunch at a local restaurant recently, he chose 4
grilled cheese sandwich. That's not exactly a budget breaker - nor one of
the higher priced items on the menu.
Other times, he'll make plans to come home to eat lunch with his wife
and then they drive their youngest son to afternoon nursery school. Going
for a ride with the family in the car is still important, he insists. Playing
with the kids is just as important as showing a post-up move to Loy or
Terry. Heading out to the tennis club, or Sunday church are still as import-
ant as talking to Dick Vitale before a game. Family. Family. Family.
And then there's the event which took place Wednesday as the tearp
waited in Metro Airport to depart for the tournament. For some reason,;
foul-up had occurred and there was a shortage of first-class seats. The team
grabbed coins and flipped for what luxury seats remained. Fisher didn'i
automatically reserve a seat for himself.
Fisher sat in the back of the airplane.
Same old Steve.
It started back in Herrin
Life has changed since that fateful day a year ago. For the most part,
except for an occasional airplane ride, life has been all first class. But still
life remains the same. The values Fisher had instilled in him, still stick.
He attended a Catholic grade school until he father had an argument with
the Monsignor. Then came the public school, where he could play baseball
under the guidance of a close family friend. He played baseball, basketball,
fished with dad and grandpa. Even got into mischief. All-Illinois type stuff.
All-Midwestern. All-American life.
The smile is still the same over 20 years later. Steve Fisher stood 5-foot-
11 as a reserve guard for the Illinois State Redbirds. He totalled 56
points during a two-year career which saw his team make it to the
Final Four of the 1967 NCAA college division.
S AX6'd, SW6
Here's a look at Michigan coach Steve Fisher's less than earth
shattering statistics as a member of the Illinois State basket-
ball team. The 1967 team went all the way to the Final Four of
the NCAA's College Division.
Season G FG F G% FT FT% PTS AVG
1965-66 15 14-41 .341 15-22 .682 43 2.9
1966-67 5 5-9 .556 3-8 .375 13 2.6
T o t als 20 19-50 .380 18-30 .600 56 2.8
Montross, considered the top prospect in the nation, signs with Fisher next
month, it quickly switches to "yes."
Despite the losses, the team remains intact. Rumeal's still a little
bullish, still a little feisty, but Fisher remains in charge. And Fisher, who
adapted quite well fairly quickly to becoming an interim head coach in last
year's tournament, now has learned to change on the court too.
"Coach Fisher has learned to adjust to a lot of situations," Terry Mills
says. "If we lose, he's the type of guy that can get you ready for the next
ballgame. I think that's great on his part, not to get down because he came
into the season undefeated. Everyone expected him to go undefeated this
When Fisher came out of college, he grabbed a job in the Chicago area.
Complete with a master's degree, he began teaching at Rich East High
School. Did the whole bit, too, including instructing drivers ed. Soon he
became their head coach, met his wife, Angie, and won 141 games while
only losing 70. Then his former boss, who had gone on to assume the head
job at Western Michigan called. "Come with me," he said.
Fisher did. Loyalty to Les Woethke seemed too important. "I could have
been happy forever at Rich East, but I moved on," Fisher says. Later, he
moved to Michigan - and seven years later, the fairy tale began.
All in an image
Fisher entered this season with the image of a miracle worker. He also
came portrayed as a caring family man. "I've gotten an image in a month or
three weeks that some coaches work a lifetime to get," Fisher admits.
The image that developed is one of the stereotypical guy next door. The
success, a salary which was doubled, has not changed him. Financial rewards
Fisher entered the tournament on "a lick and a prayer" and won it all.
One time the wind became brisk and prevented dad, grandpa, brother anD
Steve from using a boat to trap their prey. They fished underneath a railroad
trestle. Steve and his brother became bored, ran around, maybe played1°
game of tag, maybe took a jaunt to the other side of the lake. They came
across a dead snake wedged between some rocks, pried it away with a knick4
and ran atop to the railroad track. With a giggle and a guffaw, they droppe
the snake straight down, onto their father's shoulders.
"He was scared initially," Fisher laughs. "But I don't think we were
punished. He yelled at us a little bit."
His father worked as a claims representative in the local Social Security
office until ulcers forced him into early retirement. His mother recently
retired due to the mandatory retirement age at the Illinois employmei
office, working the same job for 53 years - the same one since the day sle
got out of high school.
And life goes on
"He's a great coach and I love him for everything he does," Mills says.
"Players kid around in practice. We joke about who is going to be the net
interim (coach) in practice, things like that.
"He's done an excellent job."
No wonder Fisher wants to stay at Michigan forever. He's happy. It
likes it. He jokes that one day, you'll see the "the no-hair Steve Fishet.
Steve Fisher -has no hair," working the sidelines in Crisler Arena. H
From little Herrin, to Illinois State, to Rich East High School, and
ultimately to Michigan, it's all the same
Same old Steve, that is
with Fish now. Everybody
loves him and the trans-
ition stage is over. He's
proven he's a good coach
and deserves the job.'