Ouster still irks coach who built Michigan's '89 NCAA champs

January 05, 1992|By Neil Milbert | Neil Milbert,Chicago Tribune

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State's Bill Frieder, the coach who put together the last Big Ten team to win the NCAA Tournament, has only one regret about the way he left Michigan.

If he had to do it all over again, he would "make the security guards carry me off."

When he accepted the Arizona State job in March 1989, Frieder immediately went public with his decision.

Bo Schembechler, then Michigan's athletic director, responded by announcing that Frieder's services weren't needed in the NCAA Tournament.

Assistant coach Steve Fisher took over the team that had finished third in the conference. It suddenly jelled and won the NCAA title.

"I was regarded as the jerk," said Frieder. "That bothered me. I did not want to lie to my team, to my fans, to the press. I decided that we'd announce it, and then go coach.

"If I had that to do again, I'd go in there and coach the team, anyway, and make the security guards carry me off in front of all the cameras. Then [Schembechler] would have been the jerk instead of me.

"It was really ironic what he did after that. He was completely deceptive in the way he left to go to the [Detroit] Tigers. After he resigned as football coach, he knew he was leaving.

"They asked me about him being football coach out here. I said: 'Hey, he's a candidate. Since he has gone to the Tigers, they've been mediocre, and it's obvious he's not a television commentator. So maybe he ought to go back to football.' "

As for Frieder, he has no desire to go back to his native state,

even though he misses Michigan.

"I love Michigan, and if Don Canham [Schembechler's predecessor] had stayed the athletic director, I still would be at -- Michigan," he said.

"It was just time to leave because we had accomplished as much as we were going to accomplish. We had a great decade in the 1980s. We're the last Big Ten team to win back-to-back championships outright [1985 and 1986]. We were not going to get a better team than the one we had.

"But there were just too many people unhappy. When you start getting booed at home, it bothers you. You might say it doesn't, but it does -- you work hard, give it all you have.

"My wife, Janice, and I always were talking about how we were going to move out west when we retired. What better way to move than to get paid to do it? This was a great new challenge.

"My wife and I looked at each other and said: 'Let's go.' I haven't been back to Michigan since.

"I just signed a new five-year contract. We're happy."

At the same time, Frieder, 47, is "real concerned" about his young team. He has only one senior, Lynn Collins, a guard, and he fretted about "lack of leadership both on and off the court."

At the start of the season, Arizona State self-reported to the NCAA unauthorized use of credit cards by several key players to make long-distance telephone calls. Suspensions followed and only recently has the team been intact again.

Not surprisingly, the Sun Devils have started to come on strong with seven victories in their past eight games. The record stands at 8-3 after an 81-62 rout of Northwestern in last Saturday night's championship game of the Arizona State Classic, which Frieder described as "our best game from start to finish."

If the Sun Devils do have their act together, they would seem to be in excellent position to surpass last season's 20-10 record, their best since 1981. They finished third in the Pac-10 and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1983. Also, since Frieder's arrival, average attendance at home games has soared 82 percent to 8,588.

"In 30 years, I don't know of a coach who has turned a program around the way Frieder has," said Southern Cal coach George Raveling, another Big Ten expatriate (Iowa) who went west.

"Our program has picked up, but as a conference we're also getting better," said Frieder. "This year you have Southern Cal beating Ohio State, UCLA beating Indiana, Arizona over LSU. But it's still not as strong top to bottom as the Big Ten. The Big Ten has more balance and many more big kids.

"You don't have the high school talent pool to draw from. That's the big difference. Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio are loaded. Here you have California. If you get one big-time player out of the rest of the states, you're lucky. For our recruiting base, we work California and Texas very hard.

"You also don't have as many big-time facilities. Oregon, Washington, Stanford and California only seat about 5,000 or 6,000."

While Frieder is no fan of Schembechler, he still considers Fisher "a great friend -- my best friend in Ann Arbor. He and I were together in Las Vegas in July when we recruited, and our families spent the whole time together at the Nike Convention in August at Colorado Springs.

"This year Steve has a great young team -- legitimately a top 20 team, which puts them in the top five in the Big Ten. He already has proven he can coach -- he won the national championship. Now he has proven himself as a great recruiter.

"The thing that would have upset me the most when I left was if he had not gotten that job. And, had they not made that tournament run, I don't think Schembechler would have given it to him.

"He was influenced by [Indiana coach Bob] Knight and others to get rid of all of Frieder's people. But then it got to where sentiment was in Steve's favor. I've got copies of letters people sent to the university president. They were going to withdraw big money from the football program if Steve wasn't hired. Whether he wanted to or not, Schembechler had to hire him.

"I can't imagine anybody complaining about Steve Fisher. But I'm sure somebody will. I look at a great coach like [Northwestern's] Bill Foster and see he has done it for 31 years. If he had to start today, even a Bill Foster wouldn't last 31 years."

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