Tate: Fisher firing solves woes for Michigan

Tate: Fisher firing solves woes for Michigan

Steve Fisher need not apologize. He just was being himself.

If he didn't know everything that was happening around the University of Michigan, if he didn't carry the lash of discipline that might have kept unruly athletes in tow, that just was part of his Barney Fife personality.

From his wavelength, how could the coach be expected to catch vibes that the rashly independent Jalen Rose was spending some of his off hours with old buddies at a crack house?

From his perspective, how would he know his hosting athletes would stop by Ed Martin's home and drive off campus in the wee hours of Mateen Cleaves' recruiting visit?

And what was he supposed to do about the athletes' acquisition of expensive cars when those purchases were made through family members?

Wouldn't he have been easily circumvented – kept out of the loop – if thousands of dollars exchanged hands ... as unidentified witnesses claim and players' lifestyles indicate?

If illegal operations were ongoing, as the Detroit media believes, lines were established long before Fisher replaced Bill Frieder, and surely before that. Fisher knew enough to keep Martin happy, making sure he had freebie tickets, but he probably had no hint of the extent of his involvement.

Fisher's official sins are too minor to discuss here. His real sin was that his blue-chip talent didn't always play up to expectations. The Wolverines underachieved. As with the Gary Moeller case, strong forces at and around the university were looking for an excuse to bring in a more dynamic coach.

The Michigan investigation provided the perfect opportunity for U-M's new hatchet man, Tom Goss. And before you recoil at the "hatchet" designation, consider that any administrator with compassion would have given the ever-loyal Fisher a chance to voluntarily step down before blatantly firing him.

What happened, from the overall standpoint, is best for the long-range standing of Michigan. School leaders can stand tall before NCAA compliance officers and point to the fact that both the athletic director and the head coach have been replaced, and that any shortcomings in the area of "institutional control" have been fixed.

Where once the Wolverine basketball program appeared in jeopardy of a major NCAA hit, all bets are off. It now appears likely the NCAA will accept the findings of Michigan's internal investigation and reach a compromise on modest sanctions, saving NCAA investigators the trouble of looking further.

And if Michigan can entice one of several candidates to leave on short notice, the Wolverines will put a hot new coach in place and continue on their merry way.

Center not settled yet

The recommitment of Fess Hawkins will not end Illini coach Lon Kruger's quest for a junior college center.

Hawkins hasn't yet grown out of the "project" category. He tends to be overweight, doesn't run well and isn't a high jumper. He needs a strong conditioning program. His ability to improve at Westark College over the coming season will be critical.

The UI coaches were encouraged by Hawkins' willingness to work during the short time he was here a year ago, and they further were impressed by his willingness to return after a bill or more than $7,000 was tossed back on his table.

Normally, that amount of money would be a hindrance, but the coaches and the administration apparently have eased Hawkins' mind as to how it'll be resolved.

As with Shelbyville's Rich Beyers, Kruger made an appropriate decision in bringing in Hawkins. But, like Beyers, major improvement must be made before Illinoisans can expect a championship-level performance.

Tate's tidbits

– Former Illini assistant coach Bobby Hull won't be on the sideline when Wichita State faces the Illini cagers in San Juan. Hull has resigned as a Randy Smithson assistant for family reasons.

– Illini senior Brian Johnson said he'd "love to see (brother) Lucas Johnson at Illinois." The Maine West forward has been in touch with UI coaches, Brian saying a visit is scheduled for late October or the first weekend in November. Northwestern and Illinois State also are high on Lucas' list, with Minnesota and Iowa State also under consideration.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette.


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