Steve Fisher made the local and national headlines recently. Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with his Aztecs, or their recent play on the hardwood.
The head coach for the sixth-ranked San Diego State Aztecs, who are currently 26-1, was recently reprimanded by Mountain West Conference officials for comments he made about former Wyoming head coach Heath Schroyer, who was fired February 7. Schroyer, who compiled a disappointing 49-68 record in his four-year tenure with the Cowboys, was given a contract extension in 2009.
Despite finishing the 2009-10 season with a 10-21 record, Schroyer and the Cowboys bounced back, to a certain extent, to start this season. After starting at a respectable 8-8, with a 1-1 in-conference record, however, Wyoming proceeded to freefall, losing seven straight games – including a 39-point beatdown at the hands of Fisher’s Aztecs – when the athletic department decided to cut ties with its head coach. Subsequently, regardless of Schroyer’s poor performance at Wyoming, Fisher would say his peace about the situation.
So, what did Fisher say to incur the wrath of the MWC? That Schroyer deserved it? That he was a terrible person who liked to kick puppies and take candy from little kids?
Lets take a look at the statements he made, straight from the horse’s mouth:
For a coach to be fired with six weeks to go in the season is inexcusable. We talk to our players about commitment, not cutting and running, and yet when things go south a little bit, often our administrators say, “What do we do to please our biggest donor or the perception standpoint?” … This is not the NBA. This is not the NFL. Yes, this will happen before and will happen again. That doesn’t make it right … It’s wrong. It should not have been that way. It should have been done in a professional manner. A six-week jump on the market is not worth it.
The official word from the MWC is that Fisher was fined per the league’s sportsmanship rule. But, unless I’m reading it wrong, he was actually defending a coaching colleague. He wasn’t badmouthing the man – Fisher was expressing his remorse for the raw deal he believed Schroyer ended up getting in Wyoming. Based on what he was fined for, what did he do wrong?
I understand that, in the above passage, he wasn’t badmouthing Schroyer – he was badmouthing the Wyoming higher-ups, and the way they dealt with him. After all, they did give Schroyer a contract extension the year before they ended up firing him – and six weeks before the end of the season, no less. Honestly, if Wyoming wanted someone better, why did they give Schroyer the extension in the first place? After all, other than a 19-14 record and a CBI appearance in the 2008-09 season, he wasn’t all that impressive to begin with. Why not just let him finish out the season, and re-evaluate him then? I agree with Fisher – there was no strategic advantage Wyoming gained for firing him with seven games left in the regular season.
Ultimately, I just don’t understand why the MWC couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie. Fisher wasn’t attacking anyone in particular – again, if anything, he was defending one of his own – and he wasn’t saying anything wrong. He was restating an unspoken truth, and, apparently, a taboo, about the politics of big sports programs: athletic directors can, and will, do what they feel is necessary to keep their donors happy, and their sports programs going, at the expense of the people who work for them. It’s as if no one can attack the sketchy practices sports programs are liable to take with their employees, silencing what is morally right for the sake of “sportsmanship.”
Personally, I applaud Fisher for saying something. It shows how much of a stand-up guy he is, and simultaneously points out how duplicitous organizations like the MWC and the NCAA can be.