Always humble, San Diego State head basketball coach Steve Fisher would probably say this recognition is a result of his players' efforts, or that it should be rephrased as "the 18th best coaching staff" in college basketball, just as he reacted when he was awarded MWC Coach of the Year.
ESPN.com asked 100 of its writers, researchers, broadcasters and editors to rate current college basketball coaches on a scale from 1-10. Those polled were to only rate the coach based on current success, not based on the coaches' legacies. Starting June 2, ESPN released the results of the poll, beginning with coaches ranked 50-25. Then, day by day, ESPN released one more coach on the countdown until it released Fisher's name at No. 18 today.
Being ranked 18th among current college basketball coaches is a great honor--Fisher, full of respect for his peers, would no doubt tell you that, himself. He led a team that was supposed to be in a rebuilding phase to its tied-for-best winning streak in program history (20 games) and a dazzling 31-5 record. He led this supposed "rebuilding team" to the Sweet 16 where the Aztecs led Arizona for 26:32 of the game. He got a group of 18-23 year olds to firmly believe that defense wins championships. He got that same group of young kids to play without ego and for the good of the team. He helped Xavier Thames become an NBA Draft prospect and he helped Winston Shepard have the bounce-back season Aztec fans longed for.
Eighteenth is great. There are a lot of college basketball coaches out there, and being No. 18 is no small accomplishment. But at the same time...can you think of 17 better coaches? Even ESPN.com writer Eamon Brennan admitted he was surprised Fisher wasn't ranked higher.
There are some obvious ones: Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Roy Williams of North Carolina, John Calipari of Kentucky and Rick Pitino of Louisville. Then there are some that had great years and deserve recognition, like UConn's Kevin Ollie and Wichita State's Greg Marshall. So there are definitely coaches that deserve to be ranked better than Fisher--all I'm asking is if there are 17 of them.
Yes, Fisher made a few mistakes this year, namely not featuring Dwayne Polee II until late in the season. But all coaches make mistakes--that's part of the long process of the basketball season.
You could definitely pin a lot of Fisher's success on his assistant coaches, like Justin Hutson and head-coach-in-waiting Brian Dutcher. But I'm willing to bet a lot of the current great college coaches have wonderful assistant coaches, as well.
And with Fisher it's very easy to get caught up in his legacy, how he built this west-coast basketball powerhouse from the ground up in 15 years. It's possible to let that respect for his legacy bleed into this season.
But, with all that said, I still have trouble finding 17 coaches who are currently better than Fisher.
So I'm done racking my brain. I want to know what you all think. Please answer the poll and comment with your thoughts about this, I'm very curious to see what Mountain West Connection readers think.