Bo Schembechler wasn’t the athletic director at the
It was 20 years ago to the day, as I write this, when the Michigan Wolverines won the NCAA basketball tournament.
They did it under the guidance of an assistant coach, because Bo told the head coach where to go and exactly when.
The U-M team of 1989 is getting the short shrift around town. Much of the ballyhoo, and it’s hard to argue it, centers around the 30th anniversary of the 1979 champs from
The fact that MSU now appears in the 2009 Final Four, 30 years later, in
Nor should it.
While the drama in the ’79 tournament occurred on the court, the storyline in 1989 got rolling before any of the teams played a single tourney minute.
Bo was about ready to retire as
So in 1989, Bo found himself in the spotlight even though it was basketball season. He didn’t go looking for it, though.
The Wolverines were coached by Bill Frieder, and had been since 1981. The basketball program had some success under Frieder. The man could recruit. He began pilfering most of the best high school talent from
The 1988-89 team piqued the hopes of the
Led by guard Rumeal Robinson and forward Glen Rice, U-M went 21-6 in the regular season. Frieder’s kids were one of the top-seeded units going into the tournament.
The college coach leaving one school to go to another is a drama frequently played out. I’ve always found it odd that when players choose to transfer, they must sit out one entire season before they can play for their new school. Yet coaches can come and go as they please. Sometimes without the inconvenience of having to tell the truth about their plans.
Darryl Rogers, in 1980, promised the folks in
Nick Saban, a couple years ago, angry and his voice full of indignation, became defensive when reporters quizzed him about rumors that he was about to become the new football coach at
A few days later, Saban was at
But that's OK; just as long as the kids sit out a year at their new school.
Coach Frieder, with Glen Rice--before finding out that honesty wasn't always the best policy
Even Schembechler, in the early-1980s, found himself being courted, by Texas A&M. But Bo was forthright, and didn’t deny the rumors. In fact, he went out of his way to let everyone know that he was thinking about it, hard.
So when Billy Frieder told his boss, Bo, on the eve of the ’89 tournament that an offer had been made for him to coach at
Bo fired Frieder, on the spot.
Assistant Steve Fisher was named interim coach, for as long as U-M would last in the tourney.
Now here’s the funny part: Frieder was a U-M grad. Fisher was not.
That’s OK; why should the facts get in the way of a good rah-rah speech?
So Steve Fisher, who few people had ever heard of even though he was in his seventh year as a
A--ahem--"Michigan man." Kinda, sorta.
Steve Fisher: nobody could beat his coaching debut
The tournament commenced—Frieder kicked to the curb, the unknown Fisher coaching.
In the Final Four,
Finally, some drama ON the court, in the Final against Seton Hall. The game went into overtime. Robinson calmly hit two clutch free throws.
Bo smiled some more.
For his efforts, Fisher was rewarded by Bo with an offer to drop the “interim” tag from his title. And Fisher, soon afterward, recruited the Fab Five and made it to two more championship games, though he lost them both.
But Fisher was forced to resign in 1997, the school rocked by the Ed Martin donation scandal that involved members of the Fab Five.
A true “
Bill Frieder, U-M class of 1964, never did.
All Frieder was guilty of was being honest with his boss about a job offer.
And that's all Bo needed to make his mark as athletic director with so little time on the job.