A 72-year old man engaged in a rigorous, stressful, all-consuming profession decided to retire today. It shouldn’t come as a shock.
And yet, disbelief is all I can muster.
Steve Fisher was named the head men’s basketball coach at San Diego State University in 1999, a few months before I started school as an 18-year old freshman. Steve Fisher retired today, nearly 13 years after I graduated from SDSU. I have a lot less hair than I did back then and that which remains is going gray in patches.
If the paragraph above seems farcically self-serving – making the retirement of a legendary coach all about me – well, I agree with you. But I also don’t think I’m alone in this kind of thinking right now. Because Steve Fisher was about me. And if you’ve been an Aztecs fan for any period of time, he was about you too.
Think of how SDSU has changed since 1999. Presidents and football coaches have come and gone. Buildings have been ripped down, built up and renovated. Taco Bell/KFC express has given way to a joint with fancy organic salads.
What are the constants? As of this morning it was sunshine, the stale urine stench in Adams Humanities … and head coach Steve Fisher.
Now we’re down to the sun and the stench.
I can remember the first time I ever heard SDSU basketball mentioned on a national TV broadcast. It was Selection Sunday in 2000 and the Aztecs were fresh off a 23-loss campaign in Fisher’s inaugural season. Dick Vitale was picking apart the resume of a Mountain West team – Utah, I think? – and dropped the the following rhetorical hammer:
Who exactly did they beat? San Diego State??
I wasn’t around for the Fred Trenkle years, or slogging through pointless seasons where the rats outnumbered the fans at the San Diego Sports Arena. But I remember that throwaway line from Dickie V.
San Diego State as punch line. It left a mark.
You all know what happened next. How Fisher made the Aztecs competitive. How he seemed to plateau at NIT-level success. How he then put together the most dominant string of successful seasons our fair city has ever seen. I mean, look at this:
That’s five straight seasons reaching the top 15. Two reaching the top 5.
In a power conference, that probably gets you an extension. At a Mountain West school with zero previous tradition? That deserves a statue.
The numbers boggle the mind. In all Fisher tallied 386 wins in 18 seasons at SDSU. In the other 30 years of SDSU’s Division I era, his seven predecessors tallied 381. Among those 386 are the only six NCAA Tournament games the Aztecs have ever won. He did so without scandal or short cuts or shopping himself for a bigger, flashier job elsewhere.
How lucky are we?
I’m sure the writers who covered Fisher closely through the years are busy banging away on their grand tributes, no doubt perfectly encapsulating the heights he reached here and the man he is. I can’t wait to read them. Believe me, they will all be better than these here ramblings.
There are also ample words to be written on the start of the Brian Dutcher era at Montezuma 55th. It’s gratifying to see one of the most loyal lieutenants in sports history finally get his command. I’m thrilled for him. Or will be once this shock and sadness wear off.
But right now, you’ll have to forgive me. At the moment, all I can think about is what San Diego State means to me. It means enough to me that I waste time watching every game. That I blog late into the night. That I hold up SDSU paraphernalia in foreign locales like a common uncultured dipshit.
Does this common dipshit exist without Steve Fisher, and what he did here?
Does the current version of you exist?
I’m thinking not.
Thank you for everything, Coach.