Fisher fired, basketball program needs higher standards, Goss says

October 11, 1997

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Steve Fisher is out as Michigan coach as abruptly as he came in.

Fisher was fired late Friday, less than a week before the Wolverines' first basketball practice. The move by new athletic director Tom Goss comes eight years after Fisher was named coach on the eve of the 1989 NCAA tournament which the Wolverines won.

"I have decided that it is time to make a change in the head men's basketball coach at the University of Michigan," Goss said at a news conference following the football team's 23-6 win over Northwestern on Saturday.

Goss said he did not give Fisher a chance to resign.

"I just felt we needed a new direction in Michigan basketball," Goss said.

The announcement came two days after a Kansas law firm hired by the university to investigate the Wolverines basketball program issued a report that called into question Fisher's role in arranging complimentary tickets for booster Eddie Martin.

"My conversation with coach Fisher yesterday did not focus as much on particular findings of the report as it did my sense of what we need to do to move forward with a program of which we are all proud," Goss said.

Goss said both he and university President Lee Bollinger were "troubled by evidence in that report that our basketball program has not been held to the standards we believe all programs at the University of Michigan should meet."

Goss said he met with Fisher on Friday and decided that a change was needed. Goss declined to comment further on his talk with Fisher.

"I respect Steve Fisher and his right to privacy, so I do not wish to discuss in any detail the substance of our conversation," Goss said.

A man who answered the door at Fisher's house Saturday said Fisher did not want to talk to the media.

Goss said a search for a replacement will begin immediately. Until a successor is named, assistant coach Brian Ellerbe will run the team under Goss' supervision.

Fisher told investigators with the Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm he was responsible for only a few of the 32 complimentary tickets Martin received during a three-year period. But investigators found that Fisher made out 16 of the passes, and that his secretary or other clerical workers made out 10.

Six other complimentary tickets bore the initials of former assistant Perry Watson, who has denied leaving tickets for Martin. A handwriting analysis showed at least five of the six sets of "PW" initials had been written by Fisher, the report said.

Goss said that since he arrived at Michigan, he has met with all coaches to discuss how he believes the team should be run.

"I want you to know where I stand on the central values of Michigan athletics. These are not simply Tom Goss', these are the University of Michigan athletic department values."

He cited those values as: "a commitment to honesty, integrity, accountability and responsibility, respect and compassion, competitive spirit, and the team must come first. The team must come first."

Martin, a retired autoworker from Detroit, has been at the center of the investigation into the basketball program, after published reports said he provided cash and gifts to several Michigan players.

He has denied the allegations.

Fisher's leadership has been criticized before, such as in February 1996, when an early morning rollover accident with five Michigan players and a recruiting prospect. The players were returning from a party in Detroit when the accident occurred. Robert Traylor broke his arm and missed the rest of the season. The recruit, Mateen Cleaves, attends Michigan State.

Fisher placed the five players on probation and said there would be further restrictions. Only Traylor missed any playing time.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Loy Vaught, who played for Fisher's NCAA championship team, said he was disappointed.

"My feeling is that he might be taking some heat for things that were kind of out of his control," he said. "It's very unfortunate because I know Steve Fisher and I can say that he doesn't cheat."

Maurice Taylor, who left Michigan early after last season and is playing with the Clippers, said the firing will shock the team.

"It may hurt them or it may motivate them. We'll just have to wait and see," he said.

Fisher led Michigan to an NCAA title in his first season and an NIT title in his last. In between, he signed the most heralded freshmen class in NCAA history and led the Wolverines to back-to-back title games.

The Wolverines are coming off a 24-11 season. Fisher had said he hoped last year's NIT title would make the team stronger this season.

"It gives us a jump start on next year and allows us to feel pretty good about ourselves," he said after the team won the NIT.

Fisher hit his zenith in his first season when he stepped in for Bill Frieder at the start of the 1989 tournament and led Michigan to six straight wins and the national title.

The Wolverines went 23-8 the next season and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament and went 14-15 the next season, losing in the first round of the NCAA.

Fisher then proved why he is considered an outstanding recruiter, signing the "Fab Five" class of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.

Michigan went 25-9 the first year, losing to Duke 71-51 in the title game. The next year the Wolverines went 31-5 losing 77-71 to North Carolina when Webber called a timeout Michigan didn't have.

Webber turned pro and the Wolverines never again made it to the Final Four. Fisher leaves Michigan without a single Big Ten title on his resume.

The Fab Five era ended in 1995 when King and Jackson, the only two left from the recruiting class, led the Wolverines to a 17-14 record, losing to Western Kentucky 82-76 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional.

"The wave is maybe not there," Fisher said at the time about the end of the Fab Five era, "but the ripples are going to stay around for a long time. Kids still love Michigan basketball."

Fisher's record at Michigan was 184-82.
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© 2007 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission.
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