By SCOTT PHELAN/Montana State News
Montana State University’s newest head basketball coach, Brian Fish, characterizes his philosophy with one word: integrity.
Fish said he demands integrity from others as well as himself. “We are going to work hard and we’re going to play the game the right way,” said Fish at a press conference.
Integrity is part of the reason Fish landed the new coaching job at Montana State University.
“We were looking for integrity; someone who won’t sacrifice academics” said Athletic Director Peter Fields.
Fish was also hired because of his impressive coaching resume.
“He worked at Creighton and they built a program at Creighton when Creighton wasn’t very good. He brings a lot of understanding on that process,” said Fields.
Fish said he developed a love for basketball by virtue of growing up in basketball crazy state.
“When I was growing up, we would wait outside the high school for the announcement of the lottery winners for 8,000 season tickets,” he said.
Starting his career as a college basketball player, Fish never looked back. “I played college basketball two years at Marshall and two years at Western Kentucky,” he said. “I just kind of knew through playing that I wanted to get into coaching.”
Immediately upon graduating from Marshall, Fish found himself working for a basketball program.
“I got very lucky. Coach Dane Altman got the head coaching job at Marshall my senior year and kept me on as a graduate assistant. That was 25 years ago and I’ve just kind of stayed in it,” said Fish.
Since then Fish has worked all over. “I’ve worked at Marshall, Kansas State, Creighton, TCU, San Diego and Oregon,” said Fish.
MSU will be his first head-coaching job, but his experience leads many to believe he is more than ready for the challenge.
“Brian has worked as an assistant coach for four programs and they all ended up in the NCAA tournament. He’s a terrific person and a terrific recruiter,” said Fields.
A year ago coach Fish helped coach Oregon to the Sweet 16 (the 4th round in the NCAA Division 1 tournament), where they lost to the eventual national champions Louisville.
Sending every team he’s assistant coached for to the NCAA tournament is an impressive feat, but when coach Fish was asked about his greatest coaching accomplishment he quickly deflected the topic away from his own accomplishments.
“The best thing is when you take a kid and you see them from sophomore/junior year in high school and you get them to where you see them graduate from college,” he said. “You get to see them play in the NCAA tournament and have success. You see them reach their dreams. Just seeing their whole lives as they unfold is a great accomplishment.”
Coach Fish’s successes as an assistant coach had him itching to find a head coaching position. “I’d focused on getting a head coaching job the last year or so,” said Fish.
The MSU job was everything that Fish could have hoped for.
“You know, sometimes as an assistant the only jobs you can get are bad jobs and this was a great opportunity and a great chance. It got me very excited,” said Fish.
Now that Fish has landed himself a head coaching position, he says he’s focused on the future. “Short term goals are to create an ‘us mentality’ and not create separation. I want to make sure all the players know that we are all in this together,” said Fish.
He went on to say, “Bobcat basketball will be a players first program.”
His “player first” sentiment was clearly noticed by outgoing Oregon senior Waverly Austin.
“Fish is a players’ coach. You can have a good relationship on and off the court. He’s funny but also very serious about the game. It brings a level of comfort for a player” said Austin in a phone interview with Oregon Live.
Fish says his long-term goals are oriented towards achieving success. “I think this is one of the top two or three programs in the league, so when you’re that good, long term goals are to win the conference and play in the NCAA tournament each year,” said Fish.
He made it clear that long-term success is a process. “You eat the elephant one bite at a time. You worry about the things you can control and those things will work out,” said Fish.
“First year the goal is to get out and get fans back involved. We can’t do this without everyone in the Bobcat family,” he said.
Fish seems confident in his plan for success but is moving cautiously forwards. He has yet to hire a coaching staff or finalize the last three spots on his roster. He has, however, hired an assistant coach, Kenya Crandell.
In terms of hiring coaches, Fish has strict guidelines. “I want some diversity and some different backgrounds, but more importantly the main thing I want is a coach who puts the players first,” he said.
“I want to know what a potential coach can do to make the players better both as students and players,” he said.
When asked about recruiting players Fish replied, “Were going to spend a great deal on character over talent when recruiting. If a recruit has character, then we’ll go from there.”
Fish and his wife are still settling into Bozeman, but he has begun to hold practices to evaluate his new team.
-Edited by Elizabeth Johnson