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RSF resident Steve Fisher named 2022 Nice Guy of the Year

There’s no contradiction between being an all-around nice guy and a winner in sports.

Just ask Steve Fisher, a Rancho Santa Fe resident who retired in 2017 as San Diego State University’s all-time-winningest basketball coach. On top of the accolades he received during his coaching career, he was recently named Nice Guy of the Year for 2022 by a local philanthropic group.

He’ll be the guest of honor at the 42nd annual fundraising gala of the San Diego Nice Guys, a nonprofit that offers one-time assistance to those who need it due to an unforeseen circumstance in their lives. The event is scheduled for Oct.1 at the Marriott Marquis in downtown San Diego. (The photos on this page and page 5 were taken at the July 12 event held to announce Fisher’s honor at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse on Harbor Island.)

“Each year, the Nice Guys recognize a local community leader who has given their time, money, and support to help San Diegans improve their lives,” read an announcement by the group.

“We are privileged to be honoring Coach Steve Fisher this year,” said Nice Guys President David Walters in a written statement. “His achievements as a basketball coach during his 50+ years include being the Aztecs’ all-time winningest coach. He has been a leader and mentor to hundreds of students under his tutelage, and an avid supporter of (the San Diego chapter of the ALS Association). He exemplifies what the Nice Guys’ organization is all about.”

Fisher said he was honored to be selected as Nice Guy of the Year, especially when he saw the list of past honorees, which includes people he knows and admires such as Joe Harper, Jeff Strauss, John Moores and Ron Fowler.

Fisher, 77, doesn’t seem to have slowed down much, if any, since his retirement. He still helps out at SDSU when asked, whether it’s meeting with athletes and their families on campus, or assisting with the university’s fundraising efforts.

He can sometimes be found observing basketball practices, as well as supporting San Diego-based charitable groups and spending lots of time with his family, including his two sons, Mark and Jay, daughter-in-law Jill and his grandson, Max.

“We stay active and busy,” he said, referring to himself and his wife, Angie.

Fisher said he loved every aspect of his job as a coach, but it’s nice to remain connected with the team while not facing the same stress level as during his coaching days. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he said of retirement.

Fisher acknowledged that winning was critical as a college basketball coach. “But if that’s all you talk about you’re not doing your job,” he said.

Along with a focus on success on the basketball court, he said, he tried to impart life skills to his players, such as respect, giving back to others and sacrifice for the good of the entire team. Players were expected to be on time and attend class, and there were consequences for violating team rules.

But Fisher said you can’t instill discipline and team unity through fear. “I want them to do it because they want to be part of something special.”

Among the causes near and dear to Fisher’s heart is the ALS Association, which raises money both for research and to help care for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to paralysis. In 2011, Fisher’s son, Mark, was diagnosed with ALS.

This year, in honor of Fisher and his family, a portion of the proceeds from the Nice Guys fundraiser will go to the ALS Association.

Mark, who is confined to a wheelchair, serves as an assistant coach with the basketball team. His presence around the team, sad Fisher, benefits both his son and the players. “He’s still engaged and not feeling sorry for himself. He’s got a lot to give,” Fisher said.

Fisher, a longtime Del Mar resident, moved to Rancho Santa Fe to be closer to his son and his family and to be able to help out when needed.

According to a bio provided by the Nice Guys, Fisher began his career as a head coach at Rich East High School in Park Forest, Ill. After seven winning seasons, Fisher left to become an assistant coach at Western Michigan in 1979. In 1982, he went to the University of Michigan as an assistant coach. The Wolverines went on to win two Big Ten championships and the 1984 NIT title. In 1989, he was named interim head coach at Michigan. Hired to the full-time job after the 1989 title, Fisher coached the Wolverines for the next eight seasons. He brought in the “Fab Five” and led them to two NCAA title games. In 1999, he was hired by SDSU to coach a moribund program that had only had one winning season (15-14) since its last NCAA Tournament appearance in 1985.

Fisher became SDSU’s all-time winningest coach and the winningest coach in Mountain West history. He led the Aztecs for 18 seasons before announcing his retirement in April 2017. He guided the Aztecs to a 386-209 record in 18 seasons, led them to a Mountain West-record 10 conference titles, eight NCAA tournaments and 13 postseason appearances.

Combined with his previous school, Fisher led his teams to 570 victories, three Final Four appearances, six Sweet 16 appearances (two at SDSU), including the 1989 National Championship. He was a two-time national coach of the year (including 2011 Naismith, NABC and Adolph Rupp honors). He was also the recipient of the prestigious 2015 John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award.


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