Twenty-five years after he was thrust into the role of interim coach, after which Michigan went on a magical six-game run to the national title, Fisher's San Diego State team is in contention for a No. 1 seed a little more than a month from now on Selection Sunday. Xavier Thames (18.1 PPG, 44.3 percent from beyond the arc, 1.7 SPG) is the top player on a team with wins over ranked teams Creighton and Kansas, and whose only loss was against No. 2 Arizona.
And -- get this -- the Aztecs also have territorial bragging rights, a laughable idea 15 years ago. Fisher smirks about that one.
"I heard [Bill Walton] say [recently] on the Arizona-Stanford game, 'Arizona, they played tough road games. They went to San Diego State and won a tough game there. San Diego State's the best program in the state of California,'" Fisher says. "And people are saying that. And I think there's facts to back it up, too."
Fisher and San Diego State are college basketball's true started-from-the-bottom-now-we're-here tale. He's traveled a complex path that has included Michigan's only national title, the creation of the Fab Five, the scandal that followed and the rise of SDSU basketball.
You have to revisit his past to understand his present.
"I would retire at Michigan and they'd name a building after me," Fisher said. "That's what I always thought."
It was a reasonable idea.
Late in the 1988-89 season, Bill Frieder left for Arizona State and Fisher became interim head coach right before the NCAA tournament was set to begin. Frieder had tried to avoid the midseason mess and conceal his plan to leave for Tempe, Ariz., after the season, but once Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler learned of it, he wouldn't allow Frieder to remain. Enter Fisher.
The late-season transition was not complicated for players. Frieder had always given his assistants significant duties. He wasn't a dictator. And that made the switch easier for everyone.
"When [Frieder] left, when I became the interim [coach], it was not the first time I got up and gave the game plan to the team," Fisher said. "They'd seen me lead practice. Bill gave me a lot of responsibility and flexibility and freedom."
But players had a few concerns about Fisher. The meticulous coach didn't watch film, he consumed it. Every play broken down, every mishap addressed. In the VCR age, those sessions would last forever, according to former Michigan standout Terry Mills.
"He always wanted you to watch film," said Mills, who is now a radio analyst for Michigan basketball. "As players, we never wanted to watch film. Back then it was VHS. You had to fast forward and rewind it, and if you watched with Fisher, you'd be there all night. When he cut those lights off, many guys found ways to get to sleep."
Mills, Loy Vaught, Rumeal Robinson and Glen Rice helped the program win the title with an 80-79 overtime victory against Seton Hall in the championship game. The Fab Five of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King are the most popular figures in the program's history. But Fisher's first Michigan team is the only one that captured gold.