Before coaching his first game at Arizona State, Bill Frieder drew a crowd to the University Activity Center. That's one of the reasons he was hired.
"Let's hope we can get this kind of turnout at our basketball games," Frieder said with a laugh as he looked over a media throng about twice that which usually covers Arizona State games.Frieder, who had a 191-87 record in nine years at Michigan, resigned Wednesday to become basketball coach of the Sun Devils. The unexpected timing of the announcement prompted Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler to send Frieder packing off to his new job immediately, not after the NCAA tournament. "I don't want somebody from Arizona State coaching the Michigan team," Schembechler said. "A Michigan man is going to coach Michigan."
He gave the job to assistant coach Steve Fisher, whose first game will be Friday's Southeast regional opener against Xavier, Ohio.
Schembechler said he would "seek the greatest basketball coach in America to coach this team" and was going to old friend Bobby Knight of Indiana for advice.
There was no indication that Schembechler was offering Knight a job or that Knight was interested in one.
"I had no forewarning at all," Schembechler said during a news conference at Ann Arbor. "We just assumed that if anything would occur, it'd be after the NCAA tournament. I wouldn't have done it that way, but that's up to him."
"I do regret the timing. The timing is bad. I won't argue with that," Frieder said during a news conference at Atlanta, where he met privately with his former players. "There'll be some negatives about me on that end but some positives on this end."
At yet another news conference, this one at Tempe, Frieder heard himself introduced by Athletic Director Charles Harris as "the future of Arizona State men's basketball."
"He's a coach of national caliber and his records speaks for itself," Harris said. "He has led his school to five straight NCAA postseason appearances. He won back-to-back Big Ten Conference championships in 1985 and 1986. His team is 24-7 this season and ranked 10th in the country."
That's a far cry from the level occupied by Arizona State, a consistent loser in the standings and at the turnstiles since 1981. The Devils rose to basketball prominence under Ned Wulk, who was 406-272 in 25 years before being fired in 1982 amid criticism that he lacked charisma.
Bob Weinhauer, Steve Patterson and, for the last nine games of this season, Bob Schermerhorn have handled ASU since Wulk's firing. But each has a losing record and have not managed to get the Devils into the NCAA tournament.
Arizona State finished 12-16, its third straight loisng season and sixth in eight years.
The basketball arena, which seats 14,287, hasn't had a sellout since Wulk's days, and has averaged less than 5,000 per game for the past four seasons.
Making matters worse is the success of downstate rival Arizona, the No. 1 team in the country with a 27-3 record under Coach Lute Olson, who moved west from another Big Ten school, Iowa, six years ago. The Wildcats are 11-1 against ASU under Olson.
"I coached against Lute at Iowa City," Frieder recalled. "They came to Michigan 11-1 and we beat them. Hopefully, we'll upset them once next year.