A cynical person—not that such people should still exist after Fisher's going, in a span of three weeks, from replacing nets in practice to cutting them down in Seattle—might conclude that Bo had dawdled so long for one of the following reasons:
•The Football Über Alles Factor. "Right now Bo is trying to compare our Rose Bowl victory with this," says Rumeal Robinson, the marvelous guard whose two free throws with three seconds to play in overtime beat Seton Hall 80-79 in the NCAA title game on April 3. "There's no comparison, but Bo's trying to do that because nothing can be bigger than football." Fisher, a low-charisma, low-profile guy by whom Schembechler needn't feel threatened, will now be more indebted to his boss than if Bo had acted immediately, in the wake of the euphoria of the title game. Which brings up...
•The I Am In Control Here! Factor. At the very least, credit Schembechler and his considerable ego with the best Al Haig impersonation in years. "I've never heard of an undefeated coach getting fired," says Wolverine basketball center Terry Mills. Of course not, but that's the point: Bo might have been the first guy with the guts to do it. The search committee, such as it was, consisted of Schembechler and Weidenbach—and, oh yes, a certain unofficial adviser. Which raises...
•The Oversized Red Sweater Factor. Schembechler and Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight are fast friends. Frieder and Knight, by contrast, are anything but chums. Their enmity stems from a sideline run-in several years ago and from Knight's veiled criticism of the way that Frieder has run his program. Although Michigan interviewed no one but Fisher, Schembechler spoke with Knight shortly after Frieder's departure, and Evansville coach Jim Crews, a former Knight player and assistant, received prominent mention in the press as a candidate for the Michigan job. That, of course, was before Fisher loosed his ruddy-cheeked, pigeon-toed, even-tempered charm on the basketball world. Still, if Knight had planted doubts in Schembechler's mind about the propriety of Frieder's stewardship, Bo might have been loath to appoint as coach someone from the Frieder regime before making certain that he was on the up-and-up.
Frieder is a monomaniacal, insomniac basketball nerd, not unlike the high school kid who would rather spend Friday night memorizing pi to 50 decimal places than partying. A favorite story among hoop folk has Frieder, a Wolverine assistant at the time, scouting Doc Rivers, a high school star in Chicago who's now with the Atlanta Hawks.
"If Bo Derek's a 10, then Rivers is at least a nine," said a rival recruiter as he and Frieder watched Rivers play.
"Hey, forget about Rivers," Frieder shot back. "Who's this Bo Derek kid?"
During this past season Frieder "baby-sat" Chris Weber, a 6'8" sophomore standout at Detroit Country Day School, showing up at many of the youngster's games. That's the kind of duty few head coaches at major schools condescend to do. Instead of schmoozing with alumni boosters, Frieder prefers to hang out with players, who take his phone calls at odd hours and refer to him as Frieder rather than by the usual honorific, Coach.
The Michigan basketball team's chummy relationship with Frieder couldn't have been more unlike the football squad's distant and wary dealings with Schembechler. "Even if Frieder wasn't always the coach we wanted him to be, he cared about us," says Robinson. "At times you got sick of him. He was everywhere. But it was better to have him around than to never see him."
After Schembechler decreed on March 15 that he wanted "a Michigan man to coach Michigan" and named Fisher as interim coach, Frieder told at least one Wolverine that his relationship with Schembechler had deteriorated to a point where he felt that he had to take the Arizona State offer, for fear he would not have a job at Michigan next season. In that light, his decision to bolt, which many people regarded as treason, becomes more understandable. Frieder heard boos after several midseason league losses. "As strong as Bo is, he could have made a statement earlier in the season that would've ended [the alumni disquiet]," says one former coach and close observer of Michigan basketball. "There was always this subtle, behind-the-scenes battle between them. And financially Bill was making a killing. None of it had to go back to the university. That drove Bo nuts." (Schembechler donates an estimated $100,000 from a shoe deal and summer camp to a fund for the education of his assistants' children.)