The Steve Fisher Story

Submitted by JimBobTressel on February 23rd, 2011 at 11:53 AM

The Steve Fisher Story


For the kids on the board like me who are too young to have seen the Fab Five play, brush up on a little history. Steve Fisher coached the 89' team to the title and also took the Fab Five to two Final Fours.

Now, he's at the very school we got Brady Hoke from, and the SDSU Aztecs are 27-1.

Steve Fisher was, in the eyes of many, damaged goods. Once a fairy-tale story, the first interim coach to lead a team to a national championship, he had become a cautionary tale, the coach who found immediate success and immediate consequences.

A federal investigation revealed that four of his players received more than $600,000 from a bookmaker.

Michigan forfeited 113 wins and the dreaded asterisk now appears next to the Wolverines' name in the 1992 and 1993 record books, their run to those Final Fours vacated.

Fisher was never implicated by the NCAA, but the stain of the investigation cost him his job and to many, his reputation.

"I never worried he'd get another chance," said Brian Dutcher, who spent 10 years alongside Fisher at Michigan and is now his assistant head coach at San Diego State. "But it's hard to change people's opinions."



February 23rd, 2011 at 11:59 AM ^

The "What if Mich players weren't paid by a booster and Steve Fisher kept his job" hypothetical is probably one of the three most significant for Michigan sports over the last twenty years. 

Super Villain

February 23rd, 2011 at 12:49 PM ^

Nice top 3 ZRL mine would be the same. Still a shame about Bass. I am from Jackson and the entire community was so proud and excited for him. His younger brother is rumored to be leaving Lumen Christi Catholic and attending Jackson High next year. I have seen him play a couple times, not quite Antonio but only a sophomore. Will be interesting to see how he develops.


February 23rd, 2011 at 1:19 PM ^

by Michigan people.  Bo wasn't there at the time but found out about the public drunkness and rushed back to Ann Arbor.  Bo was furious that Michigan forced Moeller to resign.


Moeller is a better coach than Lloyd Carr.  He was an aggressive coach who is not afraid to take chance and is an outstanding recruiter.  IMO, Moeller would have lead Michigan into greater height than Lloyd Carr.


February 23rd, 2011 at 7:13 PM ^

*technically* nobody can say that for sure.  But given Carr's offensive genius was run the back into the line on 1st and 2nd down, screen pass to the TE on the 3rd, punt on fourth and hope the defensive can save your ass, I don't think it's too much of a stretch of deductive reasoning that Moeller would have been the better coach.


February 24th, 2011 at 12:58 AM ^

Dude, thank you for posting this. There is NO question Moeller was a better coach than Carr. As much as people say that LC just carried on the Bo legacy instead of carving out his own niche, in reality he was carrying on the program that Moeller started making over in 1990. Unlike Carr, Moeller put his own stamp on Michigan football with new schemes and attitudes. In just five years, he signed three guys who might end up in the NFL Hall of Fame (Brady, Woodson, Law).

You never heard any shady stories about what Mo was doing behind the scenes as we've all heard about Lloyd the last few years. That's because in spite of his forced resignation he bleeds Michigan and supports whoever our coach is. Great guy and a very underrated part of Michigan lore.

Is there any doubt we would have still won the NC in '97 with him? There shouldn't be.


February 23rd, 2011 at 1:20 PM ^

People really need to stop with the Crable crap. It's the go-to spin on "2006 was awesome, brah."

In additional to being exposed as NOT national championship-caliber in the bowl game, It's not like our offense was unstoppable that day. We had to punt several times and Henne didn't look especially accurate.

The final touchdown and two-point conversion made everyone think it was some epic to-and-fro game that could have gone either way when we were clearly outplayed and badly outschemed. That OSU still won in spite of a 3-0 turnover deficit tells you such.



February 23rd, 2011 at 2:05 PM ^

Why is this guy getting negged?  The box score doesn't lie:

They had a +3 turnover margin (as noted) and they never led after OSU tied the game in the 1st quarter.

During the RichRod debacle the Lloyd Loyalists turned that into "One play from the national championship!!!"  Never mind that Michigan still would have had to score.  Never mind that the Gators might have whupped the Wolverines.  (I do think Michigan had the horses to make that a competitive game.)

Similarly, Lloyd's last game turned into "We beat the national champs!!!"  Well, no, not really -- UMich beat a team that had several significant stumbles during the season, including two losses at home.


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:06 PM ^

The "What if Mich players weren't paid by a booster and Steve Fisher kept his job" hypothetical

I would rephrase it thusly: "What if Maurice Taylor's rollover accident (which eventually caused  Ed Martin's payouts to become public knowledge) hadn't happened?"

College basketball is dirty as anything.  The scandals that actually see the light of day are just the tip of the iceberg.  If not for a car accident, we most likely would have never heard a peep about Ed Martin, Fisher would still be here, and Chris Webber would still be hailed as one of our greatest players ever.

As it was, a lot of pain could have been avoided had we not turned over the program to Brian Ellerbe, a man who had just been fired by Loyola of Maryland and was hired as Fisher's #3 assistant.  

el segundo

February 23rd, 2011 at 3:10 PM ^

I think the Ed Martin scandal would have come to light regardless of whether or not there was an accident on that recruiting weekend.  He was running a pretty big gambling ring in Detroit, and the feds found out about it.  Unless I'm misremembering, the car accident did not prompt the federal investigation into the gambling.  The truth about Webber, et al. being paid came out because the feds had the subpoena power to get information about Martin's bank records.  And because he wanted to cooperate with the investigation to mitigate his criminal penalties.


February 23rd, 2011 at 12:18 PM ^

Before 1997, the Elite Eight was actually known as the "Final Eight".

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

On the point more, I don't hold any grudge against Steve Fisher for those events. He probably was vaugely aware that something was going on, but when you're having that much success, it must be pretty easy to pretend you didn't notice anything. I can't say for sure I wouldn't do the same thing.

Mr Miggle

February 23rd, 2011 at 2:12 PM ^

Here's the relevant part.

Fisher told investigators with the Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm he was responsible for only a few of the 32 complimentary tickets Martin received during a three-year period. But investigators found that Fisher made out 16 of the passes, and that his secretary or other clerical workers made out 10.

Six other complimentary tickets bore the initials of former assistant Perry Watson, who has denied leaving tickets for Martin. A handwriting analysis showed at least five of the six sets of "PW" initials had been written by Fisher, the report said.

Blue Durham

February 23rd, 2011 at 1:27 PM ^

coined by Dick Vitale like the Sweet Sixteen, Diaper Dandy, etc. 

Regarding Fisher, I think that there was a continuation of things that were going on under Frieder.  I suspect that Fisher had suspicions, but decided that not knowing was the best course of action.  And that was the end of him and, for the most part in the 1990's, the program.

el segundo

February 23rd, 2011 at 2:41 PM ^

Fisher had a different set of connections than Frieder.  Fisher was the one who developed the Perry Watson connection and probably had more connections to Ed Martin than Frieder did.  Among the elite players on Frieder's teams, I can think of only two, Roy Tarpley and Antoine Joubert, who were from Detroit. 

Frieder got his players from around the region and the country:  Gary Grant was from Ohio; Ed Wade was from Boston; so was Rumeal Robinson; Glen Rice was from Flint; Eric Riley was from Ohio.

With a couple of exceptions, Fisher got his talent from Detroit.  I don't think he was strictly following Frieder's footsteps in that respect.


February 23rd, 2011 at 3:18 PM ^

Actually Martin started attending games in the early/mid 80's can't remember which recruit for sure but it was a Detroit Southwestern guy (meaning Perry Watson connection).  Frieder let him in the program.  This is from memory but the Michigan Daily has an article you can look up from 2003 to confirm this.



matty blue

February 23rd, 2011 at 12:10 PM ^

...can burn in hell.  his see-no-evil attitude (learned, it could be asserted, at the knee of bill frieder) cost us...what?  ten years of shit?  i was in grad school in ann arbor when the fab five were around, living in the same complex as webber - and all you had to do was open your eyes to see what was going on.  fisher chose not to.

can he coach?  sure.  can he recruit, even without booster help?  obviously.  i'll never forgive him for letting ed martin run wild, though.  ever.


February 23rd, 2011 at 12:18 PM ^

I agree that Fisher's failures set the MMB team back years, but I also was in school during the Fab Five era and, selfishly, I enjoyed ever minute of it.  Sleeping out all night for the Duke game, watching Juwan dancing on the scorer's table, etc, etc.  Selfishly, I wouldn't trade those experiences during my college years for anything, even years of mediocrity after the violations became known.  I feel sorry to those that have suffered through the 2000s, but it was lots of fun while it lasted!


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:08 PM ^

I don't even think it's accurate to say that Fisher set the program back in the long run.  Many programs have overcome serious NCAA scandals in short order (look no further than OSU after Jim O'Brien).  Our problem was that we hired a grossly incompetent man to replace Fisher.


February 23rd, 2011 at 3:22 PM ^

I agree hiring a grossly incompetent man was a big part of the problem, but all of the actions of the administration at the time were a problem.  Michigan needed to stand up and say you want to investigate Ed Martin, fine we've done all we can to come clean, but when it comes to using the Feds to get info on recruits it needs to be ALL recruits.  Martin was paying a lot of Detroit kids money and they didn't all end up at U of M.  I'm thinking the NCAA might have opted to cut the investigation rather than have the complete truth of how dirty college basketball is come out, with a bunch of schools going down at the same time.


February 23rd, 2011 at 1:23 PM ^

Michigan has itself to blame for how long the recovery from Martin took by overreacting to it. Some apologists will tell you "the effects are still felt today" which is ludicrous.

Something tells me that in 10 years, USC football isn't going to be struggling and blaming the Reggie Bush incident for it.



February 23rd, 2011 at 2:37 PM ^

USC is a bad example. With their weather, population to recruit from, willingness to continue breaking rules, etc
<br>UofM was given a death sentence when they were forced to hire Ellerbe. No one else would coach here with sanctions hanging. Combine that with MSUs rise to #1 and we were basically shut off from a thin in state pool of recruits
<br>During the process, and even today UM puts itself at a disadvantage by being squeaky clean in the dirtiest sport


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:50 PM ^

like Dominic Ingerson(though he was a big headcase), Jamal Crawford, Josh Moore(though he was lazy), Bernard Robinson Jr. Avery Queen and to name a few.

He kept recruiting lazy players or low charactered players.  Throw in the fact that he's not a good coach, you have a disaster.


February 23rd, 2011 at 3:48 PM ^

The effects are still felt today.  JB is probably a little over halfway of finally digging Michigan out of the gigantic sinkhole of the Ed Martin scandal.  Here are my reasons:

1.  Tom Izzo took advantage of the scandal to "lock" instate recruiting.  Though the population shift has decreased the numbers, back then a person could recruit enough players from Detroit and Flint to win the NCAA Championship.  

2.  As Izzo and MSU rose, Michigan floundered badly, thus losing at least eighty percent of their credibility as a program to most recruits.

3.  Ellerbe was a crappy hire.  Amaker was a great hire as far as erasing the stigma, but he was never as good of a leader on the bench as he was on the floor.  And neither could break Izzo's grip on instate recruiting.

4.  As interest in the program waned, the administration took a "who cares" approach to grossly inferior facilities, thus making it even more difficult for Michigan to recruit.

And none of this would have happened without the Ed Martin scandal.  So, yes, the effects ARE still felt today.  That is why I hope Tom Izzo really did, as I felt then and do now, piss away his mojo when he talked to the Cavs.  

If there is one great lesson we can take from the Ed Martin scandal, it's that the balance of basketball power in the state can change very quickly.  JB is starting to recruit just well enough that MSU doesn't automatically get every instate player they offer anymore.  That is effecting MSU's product and forcing Izzo to work a lot harder than he used to.  It is also changing the perception of today's and tomorrow's recruits.  

Tom Izzo was able to take a "quantum leap" because of the Ed Martin scandal.  Michigan can just as easily take one in the next year or two.  


February 23rd, 2011 at 3:53 PM ^

And maybe if Izzo doesn't look like he owns the state quite as much the press will finally look into the shady stuff he's done that's been ignored.  I'm not holding my breath but it would be great if Sparty problems weren't just swept under the rug.


February 23rd, 2011 at 12:19 PM ^

Given the piss-poor coaching job Fisher did with those Maceo Baston-Louis Bullock-Robert Traylor teams in the mid-90s, I tend to think that Fisher's earlier success with the Fab Five was a result of that team's incomparable talent, and not any coaching greatness on his part. 


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:13 PM ^

Fisher is a good coach.  It's not like coaching is a roulette wheel and you can just expect to stumble upon a team that wins 90% of its game one season.  The man won a national title as a in interim coach, then returned to the national title game two of the next four seasons.  And at SDSU he's led them to six consecutive 20-win seasons.  Look at his record:

I think Fisher's low-key personality gives people the wrong impression about him.  If he were a raving lunatic on the sidelines like a lot of coaches, people would be giving him more praise.


February 23rd, 2011 at 12:45 PM ^

Overhyped? Seriously? One of them was the national player of the year as a soph, first overall pick, multi All Star and fringe HOFer, 2 others had very long NBA careers, and it's not like Ray J and King were scrubs - they were very solid 4 year starters on a major college team.

Take out Ray and Jimmy from the equation - if you took 3 current NBAers comparable to Webber, Jalen and Juwan and they were on the same college team, I promise that team went to multiple final fours.


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:13 PM ^

You have it.  Look at the two classes that made up the bulk of those teams:


* Maurice Taylor (lived up to expectations, had a decent pro career)

* Maceo Baston (pretty much the same, has had a few cups of coffee in the NBA)

* Jerod Ward (injured, so ... incomplete, I guess, although I think he was overrated)

* Willie Mitchell (a bust, pretty much)

* Travis Conlan (great role player, Michigan Man, and all that)


* Robert Traylor (lived up to expectations, didn't cut it in the NBA for multiple reasons)

* Albert White (Michigan's Kelvin Torbert ... man among boys in HS)

* Louis Bullock (made a @#$%load of three-pointers, which was what he promised)


See anything missing there?  How 'bout some top-tier point guards?  Those get you a lot farther in college ball than some star front-line players.  Also, as someone else noted, Webber, Howard, and Rose were all way better than the best of this bunch (Taylor/Traylor).