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 2:26 PM ^

Albert White actually only lasted one season here before either flunking out or getting kicked off the team (one or the other).   One legitimate criticism of Fisher (in basketball terms) was his roster management around that time; we had a lot of roster attrition those last couple of seasons, which left us younger than we should have been.   In the class before that, he had Bobby Crawford and Olivier St-Jean, both of whom transferred (St-Jean, who later converted to Islam and took a different name, ended up in the NBA).


February 23rd, 2011 at 12:26 PM ^

didn't know that brian dutcher had followed him there.  i remember listening to the post game radio show leaving the games, doug karsch took phone calls with either brian dutcher or jay smith (?).

"first up, steve from ann arbor" every time.  who is steve?


February 23rd, 2011 at 1:02 PM ^

The fact that Fisher is being re-habbed by Michigan fans is mind-boggling. The Fab Five 2 era (Taylor, Traylor, Baston, Bullock, etc.) was populated by terrible players that the campus collectively loathed, constantly in trouble with the law, and with the NCAA. Fisher allowed Martin into the program, and didn't appropriately regulate his behavior. Fisher's fall was his own fucking fault, he was not a victim of circumstance.


February 23rd, 2011 at 1:44 PM ^

Yes. Not a proud moment of mine but

1) Michigan doesn't exactly tout it's basketball history of the's like a black hole after 1993. No one seems to talk about it.


2) I began to get into Michigan sports after 2000. Wolverine Historian's great videos have introduced me to 90's Michigan Football.


February 23rd, 2011 at 1:31 PM ^

The Fab Five 2 was the 1994 recruiting class. It was Jerod Ward, Maceo Baston, Willie Mitchell, Maurice Taylor, Travis Conlan. The 1995 class was Robert Traylor, Albert White, Louis Bullock.

Despite the national media spin, these guys, NOT the Fab Five, are what brought the program down. In addition to being huge underachievers, their collective recruitment was much shadier than anything in the Fab Five sans Webber. Ed Martin was mostly a post Fab Five problem.


Bando Calrissian

February 23rd, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

Those guys...

If feels like you could fill about two full rosters with guys who flamed out at Michigan between about 1994 and 2002.  Albert White, Motor City Willie, Josh Moore, Jamal Crawford, Avery Queen, Leland Anderson,  Herb Gibson, Makhtar Ndiaye, Kevin Gaines, Brandun Hughes...  I feel like I'm leaving out about ten guys.  Not to mention Taylor, Traylor, Bullock...

That era was a disaster.  Period.  Steve Fisher may have been a nice "aw, shucks" kind of guy, but man did he ever cut corners to deliver success.  And it all came out of the fact that his first two recruiting classes were absolutely awful (losing out on Eric Montross when his sister was a softball player, and he came from something like three generations of Michigan alums?).  THAT is why the Fab Five happened.  And after the Fab Five, he had to deliver again.  So we got the bums and flameouts.  And Brian Ellerbe.


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:11 PM ^

Agreed, it was these guys that got us in trouble with the NCAA.

Aside from that, they were just lazy, terrible people. Mo Taylor had so much talent, but he was just a dog. I had classes with Traylor and Baston. Truly awful guys.

But, hey - when you recruit guys by bringing them to inner-city drug-houses, you get a certain type of player.

The one guy who doesn't deserve to be lumped in with that group is Jerrod Ward. He was a really good guy, just had bad luck, destryoed his knee (twice?) and pieced together a solid year at the end of his career.


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

I don't disagree that we had some shady characters, and that we swam in some dirty pools to get them.  But . . . that's college basketball.  (And college football isn't that much cleaner.)  Where do you think these guys come from?  If you grow up in Detroit or any other inner-city area, you're basically guaranteed to know shady people, because they're all around you.  College coaches have to take chances on some of these guys.

BTW, Baston graduated from school and as far as we know, has been a model citizen since then.  (He has a son in 9th grade that we might eventually recruit, incidentally.) 

Bando Calrissian

February 23rd, 2011 at 2:47 PM ^

Well, there were a disproportionate amount of guys in those classes who were failing out, getting arrested, getting into trouble...  Yes, there's a lot of that kind of thing in college basketball, but those recruiting classes were like a grand convergence of all of it into this program.  That's the difference.  

Sure, you can take a chance on a guy or two.  We took a chance on pretty much all of 'em.  And ended up with squads chock full of really questionable guys.


February 23rd, 2011 at 3:00 PM ^

But we have also rolled the dice on a lot of football recruits, too.  It's not like it's always obvious in advance which kids will get into trouble.  Our 1997 football recruiting class may take the cake:

-Jason Brooks (kicked off the team for various incidents)

-William Peterson (Ditto)

-Demeterius Smith (Ditto)

-Ray Jackson (Ditto)

-James Whitley (lasted four years - and was voted team captain! - but was kicked off before his senior year bowl game after brandishing a gun at a party)

-Maurice Williams (K-Martgate)

-Jonathan Goodwin (K-Martgate)

There were a couple others I'm drawing a blank on.  Althogether, something like half that class got into legal trouble.  And this was a class recruited by Lloyd Carr and which had some outstanding veteran role models to look up to its freshman year (1997!).  We seemed to have a general, AD-wide problem keeping guys in line at that time.  It's just interesting how fans will compartmentalize things.  We were once a regular contender in the Fulmer Cup standings.  I don't hold that against Carr.  

Bando Calrissian

February 23rd, 2011 at 3:30 PM ^

It's a lot different in a football recruiting context, where you're signing 20-25 guys per year.  And that was, what, one recruiting class.  With basketball, where you're getting 3-5, and 50% of them or more consistently pan out to be bums or total idiots for about 5 or 6 years straight, that's an epidemic.

I mean, yeah, you're definitely right that there were rumblings around the Michigan fanbase in the mid 90's that the football program was bringing in marginal kids (and that was a pretty big knock against Moeller, there were a lot of Victors Club-type folks who were getting a bit antsy with the character of the program before the Excalibur incident even happened).  But I don't think you could ever paint it in the same light of where our basketball program was going at the time.  It was pretty well known that the Fab Five 2 kids, and the recruiting classes that followed, were pretty big question marks.


February 23rd, 2011 at 4:37 PM ^

Brooks was trouble. I think Peterson was more one of those that studying was not his main goal. He's had a very long and productive NFL career. D. Smith was setting up bombs in dorms, so he qualifies. I don't really remember hearing too many things about Ray Jackson either.  But the K-Martgate guys ended up being good dude who repented and went on to do good things. They made one big mistake, but they at least earned their way back to the right track.

But your point stands that there are problems everywhere, if you look hard enough for it.

Bando Calrissian

February 23rd, 2011 at 2:53 PM ^

Don't forget that while Fisher was already acquainted with Martin, he held a coaching spot open for Perry Watson until after the high school season was over so he could nab Jalen AND Webber, and bent over backwards to get Donnie Kirksey opportunities he would never have gotten if he wasn't connected to Juwan.  

Fisher didn't look the other way.  He did everything he could, no matter the consequences or appearances, in order to put that class together.  And that's what grinds my gears every time people get passionately defensive of the Fab Five (OMG the shorts!) around here.

We skirted the rules to get them, Fisher allowed them to build an individual identity within a team that already existed as a cohesive unit before they got there, Fisher enabled Ed Martin, and we got 20 years of struggle to get back to where we were before it all started.  It was shameful.


February 24th, 2011 at 1:24 AM ^

Big deal! Kirksey got some camp gigs because he was connected. Happens all the time. Watson was a dominant high school coach and well-connected in a recruiting hotbed. Those guys get assistant college jobs everywhere and you can't say they don't deserve them.

How many programs weren't recruiting Webber? Everyone wanted the dude. Hell, DUKE recruited him. They must have all been looking the other way too. Or perhaps they didn't expect the whole thing would degenerate into an FBI investigation.

Seriously, if stuff like Kirksey and Watson is "shameful" I have a feeling there are a lot of other stories you don't know about, football program and otherwise, that would make you squirm. Don't be such a boy scout.



February 23rd, 2011 at 1:39 PM ^

about how much was Fisher's responsibility is where he's being "resurrected".  He didn't land on his feet at West Virginia or Mississippi State or any other major conference school, but at San Diego State where he more or less fell off the map for over a decade.  He may be a good coach and a great recruiter, but no major conference school, even a lesser basketball school in such a conference has given him the second chance.  And, given the state of major college basketball that speaks volumes.

Bando Calrissian

February 23rd, 2011 at 1:45 PM ^

The most interesting hypothetical for me is this:  What would have happened if Rumeal missed the free throws in the 1989 championship game?

Fisher probably gets an atta-boy from Bo and the program hires someone else.  If you look at that postgame presser where Musburger asks Bo if Fisher got the job, Bo looked anything but a guy who wanted to hire Steve Fisher.

Bando Calrissian

February 23rd, 2011 at 7:42 PM ^

Every time Bobby came through town with Indiana, he and Bo ate dinner at the Old German Restaurant on Washington.  Besides Woody (pre- and post-10 Year War), Bobby Knight was probably Bo's best friend in the coaching business.

By the way, I think I just made this post to talk about how much I miss the Old German.


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:21 PM ^

On October 12, 1997 John Beckett, then a sportswriter for the A2 News, wrote an interesting column about Steve Fisher after his firing. The title was "Everybody was duped by Fisher nice-guy attitude"

Here are some excerpts from the article:

"Meanwhile, there were troubling incidents. Each one, at the time, may not have seemed like much. But slowly, they began to add up and form a pattern that made some begin to wonder about Fisher.

He hired Donnie Kirksey, a hanger-on to Juwan Howard, to work at his basketball camp, even though Kirksey had minimal, at best, credentials. There were reports that Fisher paid Kirksey an outlandish fee; Fisher denied those reports but refused to say how much he did pay Kirksey.

Fisher hired Perry Watson as an assistant coach amid grumbles from around the Big Ten. Fisher had timed Watson’s hiring to get a full season’s worth of unofficial recruiting from him, and Watson’s hiring was tied to Jalen Rose’s decision to play at Michigan, some conference coaches contended."

"Then came Beergate. And a summer camp scandal: Fab Fivers, and other U-M players, had been paid to do little more than sign autographs at camps and tournaments. Although U-M officials downplayed the incidents, the NCAA judged them significant enough to re-interpret its rules regarding summer camp jobs.

When Maurice Taylor rolled his vehicle in the wee hours of a Saturday morning in 1996, the incident caused some people to say more loudly what they had been talking quietly about for some time: Fisher did not have the control over his players that a coach should have, either on or off the court.

In the end, that was Fisher’s undoing. Michigan athletic director Tom Goss apparently became convinced that Fisher lacked what the NCAA calls “institutional control” over his basketball program.

How did such a nice guy - for that is the description so commonly applied to Fisher, especially early in his career - come up so short?

Was he too nice for his own good? Too trusting?

After the 1989-90 season, I had a talk with Fisher. After five seasons covering U-M basketball, I was moving on to other things. Before I did, I told Fisher that one of his players had told me that “golden handshakes” - boosters slipping players money after games - were sometimes happening in the Wolverine locker room.

I didn’t have enough on-the-record sources to write about it, but this player was one I trusted, and I thought Fisher should be alerted.

Fisher’s reaction was mildly angry disbelief. He would never believe U-M boosters or players would do such things, he told me.

An example of Steve Fisher’s naivete? I don’t think so. Steve Fisher was not that naive. Steve Fisher is an intelligent man. More likely, I think, was that if Fisher didn’t know about such goings-on, he was perfectly content to continue not knowing.

The media - myself included - made a fundamental mistake in covering Steve Fisher from the beginning. We bought into his “nice guy” image immediately and maintained it even when we should have known, or at least suspected, differently."


February 23rd, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^


If you are too young to remember who he was watch the movie "Blue Chips" and you will see exactly what happened to Fisher.


When Fisher took over the lax program under Bill Freider and after winning the NC, he tried to do the right thing and institute some discipline.  The next year was a dissappointment ending in a blow out loss to Loyola Maramount in the tournament.  The next year was a very down year and with not having  much success on the recruiting trail Fisher was starting to feel the heat.  Then the number one recruit in the country, Erk Montross from Indiana, whose grandfather played at Michigan,  his father played at Michigan, his mother went to Michigan, his sister was going to Michigan, decided to go to North Carolina, the wolves were at the door.  Fisher then made a choice, like Nick Nolte in Blue Chips, that he did not care how the players got there, just let them come.  He hired Perry Watson and the rest is history.


To this day Fisher (like Chris Webber) has never owned up to his part in the damage they did to the Michigan basketball program.  If Steve Fisher did not know what was going on and had no clue who Ed Martin was, he is either a liar or the stupidest coach in the country.




February 23rd, 2011 at 4:10 PM ^

This is the most interesting thread on here in 8 months.  I learned a ton I didn't know. I was on State Street after the Kentucky game too.  I don't look at the whole experience the same.

Makes me feel really great about where the program is now.

st barth

February 23rd, 2011 at 4:18 PM ^

Great reference.  If only Steve Fisher had gotten Shaq on the team.

And speaking of those big what-ifs regarding Michigan sports; a couple that come to mind that haven't been mentioned yet;

Football- what if Paterno had not turned down the offer from Canham and become head coach instead of Schembechler

Basketball- what if Kevin Garnett hadn't jumped straight to the NBA because Michigan had a really good shot at him


Also, I think that the hypothetical that someone posted above about Rumeal missing the free throws is a good one too.  In his book, Bo didn't seem very fond of the way that Frieder had run the basketball program.  Although I'm sure he was happy to fire Frieder, I can't imagine that he was thrilled about promoting one of Frieder's hires.  M basketball would likely have looked very different the past 20 years (although possibly much less entertaining/interesting) if Bo had found his own man to run the program.  Bonus side effect:  if Bo had gone outside the program and hired someone like Bob Knight (based on merit rather than connection to the program) then this might have been enough of a precedent to spare us all of the "Michigan Man" bs of the past few years.  We will never know, but those free throws may have indirectly effected both the basketball & football programs.


February 23rd, 2011 at 4:25 PM ^

Ed Martin wasn't just giving money to Michigan players, they were just the only ones who actually got connected to it.  Ed Martin was giving money to pretty much anyone with Detroit ties. 

This can't be proven because a majority of the players that had contact with Ed Martin did go to Michigan, but I'm pretty sure if any of the players that received payments wanted to go to Michigan State (much like Mateen Cleaves) they still would have gotten something. 

I can understand why Fisher was fired, it was the right thing to do.  I can understand why you fire everybody associated with the program, but if Michigan replaces Fisher with Perry Watson, who pretty much could recruit anybody from the Detroit area that he wanted, Michigan as a program would have survived.


February 23rd, 2011 at 4:42 PM ^

Players that went to Minnesota and Syracuse were implicated. Though without the mass, nothing came of it. Martin wasn't a Michigan booster. He was a Martin booster, looking to latch onto NBA talent. The problem was, he did it out of Detroit, where most NBA level talent went to U-M, and we didn't do ANYTHING to keep him away.


February 23rd, 2011 at 5:30 PM ^

Nobody, at any school did anything to keep Martin away.  What were they suppose to do.  This is a man who has great connections with the players before they enter the program, and in some cases since before they entered high school.

Martin was just giving money to people, and it wasn't solely to get them to attend a program that I don't think he had any ties to besides Perry Watson, who he was really good friends with.

Who is the NCAA to tell a man who he can give money for absolutely no reason. I understand saying that he can't give money to a player to get them to go a particular school, or to get them to sign a contract to let him be their agent, or to for future advertising rights, but this really just so I can be nice to you and pay me back when you can, if you can.

Bando Calrissian

February 24th, 2011 at 2:51 AM ^

Well, they did hang pictures of Ed Martin in the locker room by the early Ellerbe era that said, essentially, "Do not talk to this man."  And the kids STILL took money.  That's the most amazing part of it.  Lou Bullock, whose parents were well off, and who didn't need the money at all, was on the take DURING THE NCAA INVESTIGATION.

So to say Michigan didn't do anything to keep him out of the program is wrong.  And your entire line of reasoning is just incredibly stupid.  


February 25th, 2011 at 3:15 PM ^

1. The NCAA can say that anyone who wishes to associate themselves with an NCAA program has to follow their rules.

2. Martin was running an illegal gambling business and laundering money, which led to a federal investigation, indictment, and conviction.

So yeah, there is no merit to your argument.


February 26th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

Shand: They had pictures of Ed Martin up in the locker room [that read] 'You Can Not Associate With This Guy'. It's in the locker room. Posters.

Not defending Fisher because he most knew what was going on and traded his integrity for wins.  But to say Michigan was doing nothing, especially considering the regin of the last couple of worhtless ADs, is grossly wrong.

Bando Calrissian

February 24th, 2011 at 2:48 AM ^

The player at Minnesota, Voshon Lenard, was implicated because there were violations between him and Martin when he was being recruited to go to Michigan.  He decided to go to Minnesota after Michigan dropped recruiting him because of some other kind of violation, if I'm remembering correctly.  It's in the Fab Five book.  His implication in the NCAA report was 100% through his recruitment to go to Michigan, as well as his pre-existing relationship with Martin.  Minnesota had nothing to do with it.  

While Martin was connected to a lot of basketball players through Southwestern, by the time Perry Watson ended up at Michigan, he was as Michigan-booster as you could get.  He was Watson's best friend, after all.  And he was attached to the program during Bill Frieder's tenure as well, even though the Southwestern pipeline to Michigan was dry between Antoine Joubert and Jalen Rose.  Fisher knew him well before he even became head coach.  I don't think he was ever connected to another college program.


February 24th, 2011 at 11:07 AM ^

Steve Fisher is supposed to know who Ed Martin is and why he is spending all this time around the program.   Just read an article about Fisher on ESPN and he is still lying about not doing anything wrong.  As for making Perry Watson the coach, there is a reason that Watson never got a big time job.  The guy could coach and he would get the players to come, just don't ask how he is doing it?