“Farewell to Friend”
How do you equate greatness in his business?
Is it wins? League championships? Conference tourney titles? Post season berths? Is it graduation rate? Or fundraising? Or players who move on to the NBA?
San Diego State says goodbye to Steve Fisher, a man who turned around a floundering Aztecs basketball program.
He steps away from the noise that was “The Show”…the grind of recruiting…the rigors of coaching…the demands of being a father figure to players who have no father at home.
He retires after 18-glorious seasons at SDSU, taking the hoops program from rock bottom to the pinnacle of the conference, and to the post season.
From a (5-23) record and an (0-14) first year mark in the league, he drove the Red & Black to heights unimagined. 6-league titles. 4-conference tourney crowns, and 15-appearances in March Madness.
Winning games, then getting an NIT bid, then hoping to get an at-large berth in the tourney, to winning titles and earning NCAA bids every spring. That became his calling card.
The building never rocked more during his era (386-209) at San Diego State. Couple with his Fab 5-run at Michigan, he won 570-career games.
His personality, the respect he earned, the style he displayed, the guidance he gave, influenced so many.
From that woeful start, he convinced a former Fresno State player, Randy Holcomb, to be the first to transfer in. They believed in him. Then came Tony Bland of Syracuse, and transfers flocked to the Mesa from Michigan, Virginia, Louisville, Arizona and more.
He believed in 2nd chances, but he brought in not just quality players, but pretty good citizens. Bounce back players and JUCO’s can sometimes bring talent, but also baggage, but not to SDSU.
Then the high school starts started to come. Some flourished, like Jamal Russell, some failed like Evan Mathis, some became NBA superstars like Kawhi Leonard.
From the woeful days of Jim Brandenberg to Fred Trenkle, from the disappointments that were Tony Fuller to Jim Harrick-Junior, San Diego State tried all types of approaches to find someone who could reinvent the flashy era the school had decades ago under Smokey Gaines.
Here came Fisher with his white shirt, red tie, demanding defense, and stable approach to dealing with players, parents, alums and the media.
1-year removed from his era that ended so sadly at Michigan, he found a home, found a school with a need, and found a lifestyle that appealed to him.
One never forgets the highs, the (34-3) record, where his school was ranked at one point 4th in the nation. There were very few lows once the groundwork was laid.
And one should never forget the burden he carries, caring for his assistant coach son, Mark, terminally ill in his 40s, with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
They bid him farewell from his courtside coaching seat on Tuesday afternoon, but this community will never-ever forget the greatness of his leadership, on the court, across campus, and in the community.
They’ve named it the Steve Fisher Court at Viejas Arena. His impact is more than basketball. He saved the program, he built pride, brought victories, and made a difference in the entire athletic department.
Steve Fisher’s work may well have saved an entire foundering Athletic Department.
The Aztecs basketball success got that arena built. The recognition he brought here, has now brought a sense of enormous pride to every office in that athletic department. Across the board, so many of the SDSU programs are doing so well.
The university, the alumni, the city of San Diego, and even the Mountain West Conference owe Steve Fisher a debt of gratitude, for all he did, all he stands for, and the legacy he now passes on.