After Michigan's 102-65 rout of Virginia in the finals of the Southeast Regional in Lexington, Ky., the last piece of twine in the postgame net-cutting was saved not for 6'7" Glen Rice, the Wolverines' standout shooter, nor for Rumeal Robinson, their splendid playmaker, but for a slight, soft-spoken man in a dark suit who looks and sounds something like your neighborhood insurance agent. "I felt proud and honored that the kids would...let me cut the last strand," said Steve Fisher, blinking earnestly into the television lights and looking simply as stunned as anybody by his sudden celebrity.
Only three weeks ago Fisher was an anonymous assistant coach for the Wolverines. Today, while his former boss. Bill Frieder, is trying to hustle up recruits for his new employer, Arizona State, Fisher is the toast of Michigan, the guy who has done what Frieder could not do in nine seasons of guiding the Wolverines—take what is perennially one of the nation's most talented teams to the Final Four.
As Michigan fans chanted, "Fish-ER, Fish-ER" and "You're the man, Fisher, you're the man," in the waning moments of the win over Virginia, nobody was smiling more broadly than Bo Schembechler, the Wolverine football coach who moonlights as Michigan's athletic director. When Frieder announced—on the eve of the NCAAs—that he had accepted the Arizona State job, Schembechler replaced him immediately rather than let him coach the Wolverines in the tournament.
The decision seemed little more than a typical Bo-dacious fit of pique—"I want a Michigan man to coach Michigan," said Schembechler—and tantamount to forfeiting the Wolverines' chances of making the Final Four. After all, Fisher was a seven-year Frieder aide who had never been a college head coach.
After Saturday's lopsided triumph, Schembechler, his judgment vindicated, made a quick exit from Lexington, pausing only to visit the locker room to give his interim coach a bear hug and to congratulate the players. Although Schembechler says he won't select Frieder's successor until after the Final Four, it will be a major upset if he names anybody but Fisher.
"It makes you feel good," said Fisher of his current popularity, "but I'm smart enough to know that everyone loves a winner. With all the jobs open and all the publicity I've gotten, I'll probably be interviewed and become a head coach next year. That's my goal. I hope the job I get is at Michigan."
A low-key, button-down fellow of 44—his birthday was Friday, the day after the Wolverines whipped North Carolina 92-87 in the regional semis—Fisher is the first interim coach ever to take a team to the Final Four. His first act after the victory over the Cavaliers was to call his wife, Angie, and their 10-year-old son, Mark, down from the stands to join him in basking in the glory.
Before the season, Fisher, who had arrived in Ann Arbor with a modest r�sum� that included eight years as a high school coach in Illinois and three as an assistant at Western Michigan, decided that the time had come for him to go after a head job. He set a timetable of two years, never dreaming that opportunity would knock at 7:45 a.m. on March 15, only two days before the Wolverines' opening NCAA game against Xavier.
"Somebody from Bo's office called," says Fisher. "I went over and Bo was there, and he said, ' Fisher, you're going to coach the team in this tournament.' "