To Steve Fisher, the end of his Michigan Wolverines career, a crash and burn that ended with his firing amid NCAA scandal, is not something to dwell on. Fisher, who retired from coaching on Tuesday, was reflective but hardly combative after stepping down from the San Diego State Aztecs, telling ESPN.com that "it's all long behind me."
His former player, Jalen Rose, isn't as willing to let bygones be bygones. Rose, now an ESPN analyst, believes that the only thing preventing Fisher from a spot in the Hall of Fame is the NCAA scandal at Michigan and his teammate's refusal to own up to his part in it.
"He absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and if it doesn't happen, it goes back to where he was implicated in something he was not guilty of," Rose told ESPN.com. "Chris Webber didn't own what he did and still hasn't apologized, and there's been a lot of collateral damage because of that, the number one person [affected by that collateral damage] being Steve Fisher. He wasn't the person who lied to the grand jury. He's not the person not choosing to apologize or reconcile any of that. Yet what he accomplished doesn't get recognized."
After taking Michigan to a national championship in 1989 as interim coach, Fisher took the Wolverines to back-to-back title game appearances with the Fab Five in 1992 and 1993. Those appearances, as well as 113 victories, however, were vacated by the university after federal investigators discovered that four members of those Michigan teams received more than $600,000 from a longtime booster and bookmaker, Ed Martin.
Fisher was fired once the charges came to light.
Webber appeared before the grand jury but denied he received any money from Martin and was indicted on obstruction of justice and perjury charges. He later pled guilty to a lesser charge of criminal contempt but has continued to deny any involvement with Martin. The NCAA added on to Michigan's penalties, including a postseason ban and disassociating Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock from the university for 10 years.
Attempts by a Turner spokesperson to reach Webber for comment were unsuccessful.
Rose said he is no longer angry at Michigan, that he rooted hard for the Wolverines in this year's NCAA tournament and is thrilled with Jim Harbaugh, the school's football coach. But he admitted that every time he walks into Crisler Arena, it stings him that there are no Final Four banners commemorating his team's runs. He pointed out that, just two years ago, UMass retired a jersey in honor of John Calipari, celebrating the coach's victories even though the NCAA will not allow the Minutemen's vacated Final Four banner to fly.
"Because of Chris lying to the grand jury, the banners aren't hung for a coach who coached in three national championship games," Rose said. "It's like he never coached in them. There's nothing to acknowledge his accomplishments. Not to compare, but that's why I affectionately call my good friend, John Calipari, Teflon John. They hung a banner for him."
Rose said he feels compelled to speak on Fisher's behalf because he knows the coach won't.
Rather than harp on the finish to his career at Michigan, Fisher preferred to remember the improbable beginning. He was in his seventh year as an assistant when Bill Frieder, his good friend and the Wolverines' head coach, announced he would be taking the Arizona State job at the end of the 1989 season. The move was curious and the timing even more so. Frieder announced his decision just two days before No. 3-seeded Michigan was to play in the NCAA tournament.
Athletic director Bo Schembechler, infuriated at what he saw as an affront to Michigan's program, showed Frieder the door immediately, boldly declaring, ''I don't want someone from Arizona State coaching the Michigan team. A Michigan man is going to coach Michigan." He elevated Fisher to interim coach. Three weeks later, Fisher led the Wolverines to the national championship, becoming the only coach to never record a regular-season win as head coach before winning a title. In the record books, Frieder is credited with the 25 regular-season wins, Fisher with the six NCAA victories.
"It was a journey I'll never forget," he said.
Two years later, Fisher recruited five freshmen to campus -- Rose, Webber, Jimmy King, Juwan Howard and Ray Jackson. In February 1992, with starter Michael Talley serving a one-game suspension, Fisher elected to start all five. They scored all of Michigan's points against Notre Dame and would start for the rest of the season together. Cultural touchstones, the Fab Five wore baggy shorts and black socks and talked with a brashness not usually found in rookies. This was long before the one-and-done, freshmen fawning era of today. It was an era when some coaches, including Dean Smith and John Thompson, didn't even allow freshmen to speak with the media.
Behind closed doors, Rose said, Fisher was a stickler, memorably telling Rose to tuck in his shirt as he exited a bus -- except it was a jacket to a warm-up suit. But he also allowed the players to be themselves, unafraid to allow their personalities to overshadow his own.
"With the success he had, he absolutely could have been my way or no way," Rose said. "With him being comfortable with who he was, he allowed us to express ourselves -- as long as we took care of business in school. That's the one thing that's been overlooked, how committed he was to school. And we weren't taking paperless classes like they do down in Chapel Hill."
But the Martin scandal unraveled everything, casting a stain on the entire Fab Five era and costing Fisher his job. He spent a season with the Sacramento Kings before Rick Bay, a former Michigan wrestler, football player and administrator, coaxed him to take the job at San Diego State. The Aztecs won 29 games combined in the three seasons before Fisher arrived in 1999, and even when Fisher handed out free tickets, students still didn't come to the games.
Fisher leaves having led the team to six consecutive NCAA tournaments from 2010 to 2015, two Sweet 16s and with the Aztec student section, The Show, considered one of the best in the nation.
He told ESPN.com that he intends to remain involved with San Diego State in some capacity and that his job there is his legacy, not what happened at Michigan.
"It's never OK when you get fired, but I don't dwell on that,'' he said. "In my heart of hearts, I know who I am. I know what I did and how I did it. I'm very comfortable knowing I did things the right way. Sometimes things happen that you can't control. Beyond that piece of it, what happened to me, what appeared to be a terrible thing professionally, turned out to be the best thing professionally. It gave me the opportunity to land in San Diego, a phenomenal place to live and build a program, grow a program and say we have a program."
Rose, however, doesn't want to leave it at that.
"It's important to me to speak on his behalf because he's one of the most humble people you'll ever meet," he said. "He's one of the greatest coaches to ever do it -- three finals, one championship. He's won as many titles as Coach Cal, as (Tom) Izzo, as (Jim) Boeheim. Those guys' names come up, they're spoken about with a different level of reverence. Coach Fisher, I know what he's accomplished and who he is. He's a great man with a great family, and the Hall of Fame is something he's earned. It's something he deserves."