Ten years after becoming the only interim coach to win the national championship, Steve Fisher is back in college basketball, this time at lowly San Diego State.
Fisher, who took Michigan to three national championship games in five years and recruited the "Fab Five" to Ann Arbor, signed a contract at midnight Thursday in a San Diego hotel and was introduced as the Aztecs' coach during a news conference Friday afternoon at the campus arena.
"This is more people than we normally have at basketball games," quipped athletic director Rick Bay, who was elated to attract a coach with a national reputation to a school that has little tradition and little success. The Aztecs drew an average of just 3,189 to its 12,000-seat arena during a 4-22 season.
Fisher said he was attracted to San Diego State because of Bay, who also has Michigan ties, and because the city would be a good fit for his family. His wife and two children remained in Ann Arbor while he took a job as an assistant with the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
"I am thrilled to be the new basketball coach, ready to get started, knowing there will be a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done," Fisher said.
"I'm not naive to the fact that I think I can close my eyes and wave my wand and we're going to go from 4-22 to 22-4. But, nobody thought Ohio State would go from last (in the Big 10) to the Final Four, either."
San Diego State gave Fisher a six-year deal, with a one-year rollover due after the first season. He'll make just more than $300,000 in base pay.
The Aztecs are certainly in need of a turnaround, having had just one winning season since their last NCAA tournament appearance, in 1985. Fisher replaces Fred Trenkle, who resigned at the end of the season after posting one winning record in five years.
Bay said it was his goal to get a coach with a national profile, but never felt absolutely confident he would. He said he knew a lot of coaches were interested in the job, but as they talked to their peers, were told that it could be their last major college job.
"Steve was willing to take that risk," Bay said. "Steve was the most qualified candidate that I had. We are very fortunate to have that."
Utah's Rick Majerus rejected the Aztecs' offer Monday night. Bay said that while Majerus is a good guy, he's also eccentric and would be more of a challenge than Fisher would be.
"Steve, on the other hand, has even better credentials, really, than Rick, in some ways," Bay said. "I don't feel I was trading off competence for comfort. So I feel very good about the way this thing came together."
Fisher's career at Michigan began and ended abruptly.
He was promoted on an interim basis on the eve of the 1989 NCAA tournament after Bill Frieder accepted a job at Arizona State. He coached the Wolverines to an overtime victory against Seton Hall to win the ational championship, then had the "interim" label removed three weeks later.
He made it back to the title game in 1992 and '93, losing both times.
He was fired by Michigan on Oct. 10, 1997, shortly after a Kansas law firm hired by the university issued a report that called into question his role in arranging complimentary tickets for a booster. The NCAA accepted the school's self-imposed penalties.
"It didn't end the way it should have, but it ended," Fisher said. "You move on."
Fisher was 184-82 at Michigan, and was 20-6 in seven NCAA appearances.
He will coach with the Kings their next three games, then take over here next Wednesday or Thursday.
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