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The Right Man For the Job
Alexander Wolff
April 17, 1989
Athletic director Bo Schembechler finally named Steve Fisher basketball coach at Michigan—but what took him so long?
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April 17, 1989

The Right Man For The Job

Athletic director Bo Schembechler finally named Steve Fisher basketball coach at Michigan—but what took him so long?

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Here's what life is like after you coach a team to the NCAA basketball championship.

Traffic stops as you walk down South University Avenue in Ann Arbor, Mich. A flustered student desperately seeks your autograph, but the only piece of paper he can produce is his civil engineering syllabus. Across the top, it now reads:

ADVANCED PRESTRESSED CONCRETE
Best wishes
Steve Fisher
Go Blue!

You attend a state dinner at the White House and find yourself sharing a table with, among others, Barbara Bush, Bob Hope, Yitzhak Shamir, and a fellow you remember only as "a senator from Oklahoma—Mickey something." (He's actually U.S. Representative Mickey Edwards.) When talk at the President's table, where George Bush counts among his companions Jack Kemp and Shulamit Shamir, gets bogged down in Middle East politics, an usher squires you over so you might steer the conversation toward basketball. After dinner the 123 other guests leave, but you and your wife, Angie, spend the night in the White House, although not before the four of you—you and Angie, George and Barbara—take Millie, the presidential pooch, for a late-night stroll.

And here's what life is like not knowing whether you have a job at the University of Michigan.

You explain to your 10-year-old son, Mark, that he may soon have to say goodbye to his friends and enroll in a new school. You have no idea what to do about the nameplate on the door of the office of the man you replaced on an interim basis. The office remains vacant—you are still sharing quarters with another assistant—but the sign some mischievous well-wisher put up reads:

STEVE FISHER
U OF M BASKETBALL
HEAD COACH

During the dizzying days of mid-March—after Michigan's coach of nine seasons, Bill Frieder, announced he would be leaving for Arizona State, and after one of his two assistants, Steve Fisher, was appointed to guide the Wolverines through the NCAA tournament—the Fishers learned not to feel guilty about letting their answering machine field incoming calls, even when they were at home. But for most of last week the Fishers couldn't afford that luxury. The next call might have been from Illinois State, Fisher's alma mater, wanting to talk about its coaching vacancy. Western Michigan, a former employer, might have phoned with a similar inquiry. Why, even Wolverine football coach Bo Schembechler, who allegedly doubles as Michigan's athletic director, could have been on the horn with news of, well, of what? A statue of Fisher to be built on the Diag in the middle of campus? Instant induction into the Wolverine hall of fame? A lifetime contract as the Michigan basketball coach? Noooooo. An interview.

Schembechler finally came to his senses over the weekend. At a press conference on Monday morning, he officially gave Fisher the same sort of year-to-year handshake pact under which Frieder toiled. With revenues from a summer camp, a shoe endorsement contract, and radio and TV shows added to a base salary of $95,000, the deal is reportedly worth as much as $370,000—not too much less than Frieder's package.

The announcement spared the Wolverine basketball players the awkwardness of having to celebrate their annual banquet Monday night with the man known as Fish twisting slowly on a hook. But whatever took Bo so long? Last Friday his deputy, Jack Weidenbach, sought to justify the deliberate pace of events by saying, "The interviewing process will continue daily. We want to get to know him better." Sure. After all, Fisher has only been at Michigan for seven years.

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