Joe Santoro: Fisher no longer king of Mountain West
April 14, 2017
Sports fodder for a Friday morning …
Now that Steve Fisher has decided to retire after nearly two decades as coach of the San Diego State Aztecs, who will fill the void as the best coach in the Mountain West? The Wolf Pack's Eric Musselman? Not so fast. The title right now has to go to Boise State's Leon Rice. Rice is now the longest tenured coach in the conference (seven years). The former Gonzaga assistant has won 20 or more games in six of his seven seasons in Boise and has gone to four postseason tournaments (two NCAAs). Colorado State's Larry Eustachy (three 20-win seasons, one NCAA appearance in five years), Fresno's Rodney Terry (three 20-win seasons, one NCAA in six years), Wyoming's Allen Edwards (23 wins and a CBI national title in his first season) and Musselman (two 20-win seasons, one CBI title, one NCAA) are the top challengers to Rice as best in the Mountain West.
Fisher's career at San Diego State was impressive. He won 65 percent of his games over his 18 seasons, won 20 or more games 12 times and six Mountain West regular season titles. But it also brings into focus of what can realistically be expected by a program in the Mountain West. Fisher went to just eight NCAA tournaments in 18 seasons and only got as far as the Sweet 16 twice. Again, impressive by Mountain West standards. But it pales in comparison to his eight seasons at Michigan, where he went to seven NCAA tournaments, won a national title and finished second two other times. Fisher got Kawhi Leonard to come to the Aztecs but he was never able to recruit big-time talent to San Diego like he did at Michigan, where he brought in the Fab Five (Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King).
Wolf Pack fans should look at Fisher's career with the Aztecs as an indication of what can be expected as the ceiling for success at Nevada under Musselman. A Mountain West title and a game or two in the NCAA tournament on average every other year is what Fisher did at San Diego State. That's certainly good enough at Nevada and Musselman can deliver that without breaking a sweat. Fisher was never better at San Diego State than he was in his two seasons with Leonard (2009-11). He won 59 of 71 games, two Mountain West tourney titles and went to two NCAA tournaments, getting to the Sweet 16 in 2011. Well, this is Musselman's Kawhi Leonard era at Nevada. He now has Cam Oliver. He might never get a player as talented as Oliver at Nevada ever again. His time to get to the Sweet 16 is now. Those opportunities, as even Fisher found out, don't come along often in the Mountain West.
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Why don't the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders play at least one exhibition game this summer in Las Vegas? Does the NFL really want to be in Las Vegas? It doesn't seem so. The Raiders are going to Phoenix to play the Arizona Cardinals this August. That game could certainly be played in Las Vegas. The Raiders are going to play more games in Mexico City (against the New England Patriots in the regular season) than they will play in Las Vegas this year. Sam Boyd Stadium, with its 35,000 seats, is perfectly fine for one NFL game this year. The Los Angeles Chargers are going to play in a smaller (30,000 seats) converted soccer stadium for the entire season this year. The Los Angeles Rams played in a garbage dump (the Los Angeles Coliseum) last year. The NFL couldn't stage one Raider game in Las Vegas this year?
Doug Knuth certainly knows how to hire a head coach. The Wolf Pack athletic director performed his magic once again last week by hiring Amanda Levens from Arizona State to lead the Pack women's basketball program. Levens knows Nevada (she coached five years under Kim Gervasoni at Nevada), has been a successful head coach (winning the Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year award at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in 2012), was an accomplished player at Old Dominion and Arizona State and is still young enough (38) to build something special at Nevada. After nine usually painful seasons under Jane Albright (just one winning season in the last six years), Pack women's basketball is filled with hope and promise again. Knuth did the same with baseball (Jay Johnson), football (Jay Norvell) and men's basketball (Musselman).
One coach Knuth hired, though, is going through some growing pains right now. T.J. Bruce's Pack baseball team was 9-25 heading into a three-game series against San Jose State that started on Thursday. That Pack has struggled at the plate (hitting just .262 and scoring just 4.5 runs a game) and on the mound (5.62 earned run average, allowing 6.4 runs a game). The Wolf Pack is in jeopardy of finishing 10 or more games under .500 for the first time since it went 12-23 in 1975. The last time the Pack won fewer than 20 games was Gary Powers' first year as head coach in 1983 (19-28). But nobody should be panicking at Peccole Park just yet. The Pack didn't start playing well under Bruce last year until April 24, when it won 20 of its last 24 games to finish 37-24. The Pack's entire focus now is the Mountain West tournament with a trip to the NCAA Regionals at stake. They now have a month to fix what's wrong.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were just bored this season. So don't start predicting the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks or the Washington Wizards are going to win the Eastern Conference and go to the NBA Finals. The regular season means nothing in the NBA. We're going to get our third consecutive Golden State-Cleveland title series this June. LeBron James doesn't lose before the NBA Finals. NBA playoff first-round predictions: All of the teams with home court advantage will win. The NBA playoffs will be almost as boring as the NBA regular season this year.
The San Francisco 49ers should be hoping and praying the Cleveland Browns select North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the top NFL draft pick later this month. That would leave Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett for the 49ers. Garrett, who had 3 ½ sacks against the Wolf Pack two seasons ago, is the safest pick in this draft. The 49ers need all the help they can get on defense.
Garrett would step right in and start. Trubisky would be a project who will likely turn into the next Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder. The last thing the 49ers need is an overrated quarterback who was a full-time starter in college for just one year for an 8-5 team.