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Steve Fisher: 2022 Nice Guy of the Year

Even in the competitive world of college basketball, he really is a good guy

Angie and Steve Fisher
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He’s achieved legendary status with an illustrious collegiate basketball coaching career stacked with records, wins, and accolades, but through it all, Steve Fisher never lost himself in the glory that came along with the job. No bluster, no ego, just a dedication to his team and a commitment to fostering mutual respect on and off the court. With such a legacy, it surely came as no shock when San Diego-based philanthropic organization Nice Guys tapped Fisher as 2022’s Nice Guy of the Year.

Well, perhaps not a shock to anyone except Fisher himself. “I was very surprised!” says the Rancho Santa Fe resident. 

Though he retired in 2017, his 18 seasons as head coach at San Diego State cemented Fisher as an icon in the world of San Diego sports, and he remains very involved in the basketball program. “I told them when I retired, ‘Anything I can do to help, I’m here,’” he says. He attends every Aztec home game, and his son Mark is assistant to head coach Brian Dutcher. Away from the basketball court, Fisher says, “We’ve immersed ourselves in being good neighbors and good friends and part of the community.” That includes leveraging his fame to generate awareness of causes close to Fisher including prostate cancer, which Fisher himself battled, and ALS, the progressive neurodegenerative disease which Mark was diagnosed with in 2011.

“I think all of us have a responsibility to give back,” says Fisher. “You do it sometimes without saying a word, just by how you carry yourself, how you treat other people, the respect you show to others not based on a stripe on their shoulder or a rank that they have, but because that’s the thing that you should do. And when you have a position where people know who you are, I think there’s even more of a responsibility.”

Angie and Steve Fisher
Angie and Steve Fisher

That no-nonsense, Midwestern sensibility and humility shaped an entire career for Illinois-born Fisher, who says he always knew he wanted to coach. “In my high school yearbook, under all the things they talked about — ‘Nickname: Fish, Likes: Psychology and Trig, Dislikes: Getting Up in the Morning’ — ‘Plans to be a teacher and coach’ was under my senior picture,” he remembers. “I wanted to do that in no small part because I watched the two people who influenced me to get into the profession: my dad and my junior high coach. My dad did everything but student teach. WWII got in the way, he got married, four kids later had to make a living, and he never finished his degree. All he really wanted to do was what I had the privilege of doing.” 

Fisher’s passion for coaching is also what’s forged tight bonds with his players long after their time together on the court has passed — what he sees as the highlight of his career. “In college, you don’t have the ability to sustain if you don’t have success, but if all you do is obsess about winning, you’re going to shortchange the most important things, and that’s the people you’re with,” he says. “I’m proud to say that I never shortchanged that, and I think that’s helped build and grow relationships that I truly treasure from 1968 when I first started until now.”

Of this year’s selection, Nice Guys president David Walters says, “Coach Fisher has made a tremendous difference in the lives of many students, athletes, and others whom he has lifted to levels of achievement beyond their dreams. He does so through his compassion, attention, and focus which is so very evident after meeting him. San Diego is simply a better place to live because of Coach Fisher.” 

Fisher will be recognized at the 42nd Annual Nice Guy of the Year Gala on October 1 at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. sdniceguys.com

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