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Brian Dutcher Is No Longer SDSU's 'Head Coach in Waiting'

Dutcher is fully prepared to replace Steve Fisher


Published:

Photo by Ernie Anderson

Time for Tip-Off

SDSU opens its 2017-18 men’s basketball season versus UC San Diego on November 2.

Find the full schedule at goaztecs.com.

For Brian Dutcher, reminders are everywhere.

He sits in Steve Fisher’s old office. His San Diego State basketball team will play on Steve Fisher Court at Viejas Arena. If he’s ever selected the Mountain West Conference’s top coach, he’ll be the Steve Fisher Coach of the Year. Plus, Fisher—who retired after last season at age 72—hasn’t disappeared. He has a new office on campus and will be a welcome adviser.

“I know who I’m replacing,” says Dutcher, smiling. “But you know, that doesn’t bother me at all. And I know what standard I’m going to be held to. I’m going to be held to Steve Fisher and the standards he set.”

Over the course of 18 seasons under Fisher, SDSU men’s basketball evolved from punching bag to perennial powerhouse. Aztecs hoops became a must-see event. Fisher took his team to eight NCAA tournaments, twice reached the Sweet 16, won 10 regular-season or Mountain West tournament titles, had 13 20-win seasons, and a 386-209 record.

Now Dutcher, a big man with a quick smile and a booming voice, is eager for his new role as head coach. The man who says he’s happy and optimistic by nature—quipping “The cup’s always half full, even when things are going bad”—contends that he doesn’t feel the weight of fans’ great expectations.

“No, I really don’t,” he says. “The pressure is if you feel you’re not ready.”

To be sure, Dutcher is ready. At 57, the son of a former college head coach has been patient. He came with Fisher to SDSU as assistant head coach for the 1999–2000 season after spending 10 years together at Michigan. In 2011, Dutcher was designated “head coach in waiting.” Over the years he turned down other jobs for this, his “dream job.”

“Once I knew I was going to get the job it was easy to stay,” he says.

The transition should be smooth. Dutcher has had a huge role in SDSU’s success. He’s run practices, developed game plans, called in-game plays, coached rising stars, and had a prime role in recruiting the program’s best talent, including Kawhi Leonard, the best player in Aztecs history. Dutcher says he learned how to be a better listener from Fisher, and how to delegate.

Though Fisher was the face of the program, he once called Dutcher “invaluable.”

“He has been a non-head coach only in name,” Fisher said in 2011, when Dutcher was designated his successor. “Over the years we’ve been here, he’s done everything that a head coach could do, should do, and would do.”

So, the new head coach is no rookie. He’ll just move over one chair on the sideline into Fisher’s spot. He’ll make the daily drive from Rancho Bernardo, just as he has for 18 years. He says the real difference will come on opening night, when he’ll be the man calling the time-outs, managing substitutions, giving the halftime talk, and dealing with referees.

“Those will be the biggest adjustments, the on-floor coaching of the game,” he says. “Everything else other than that, I feel as if I’ve been preparing to do my whole life.”

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