BOZEMAN — Brian Fish has served as a Division I assistant basketball coach for a quarter-century. This week, he receives the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I’m overwhelmed with emotion,” Fish said after Montana State University Director of Athletics Peter Fields named Fish the 22nd full-time men’s basketball coach in school history. “I’m very excited and feel really good that an Athletic Director such as Peter Fields and Montana State University believes in me and is trusting me with its basketball program.”
Fields said his conversations with people about Fish during the selection process always returned to a few key ideas. “He has great integrity,” Fields said. “He’s a very loyal person, a very hard worker, he’s committed to helping student-athletes succeed, and he’s a tremendous student of the game of basketball.”
Fish comes to MSU after four seasons on Dana Altman’s staff at the University of Oregon, a period in which the Ducks compiled 96 wins, including three in the NCAA Tournament, and advanced to the post-season each year. He spent the previous six seasons (2004-10 as assistant coach), and eight years overall (including 1994-96 as video coordinator), on Altman’s staff at Creighton, and was also assistant coach (2003-04) and associate head coach (2004-05) at San Diego, and assistant coach (1996-2002) on Billy Tubbs’ staff at TCU.
While his association with Altman has spanned a quarter-century and the width of the continent, Fish remains thankful. “You can’t really control the first person you work for,” he said. “My first job was with Coach Altman and I ended up being with him for 15 years and I learned the business the right way, with integrity yet being able to win a lot of games. We had a lot of kids graduate, and some of them had professional basketball careers, and the one thing that was out of my control was the first person that hired me. That ended up being the luckiest thing that’s happened to me.”
During the 25 years since joining Altman’s staff at Marshall, Fish has worked with several preeminent college head coaches. He said he’s taken positive elements from each stop.
“I learned a great deal about coaching from Coach Altman,” Fish said, “a great deal about how to develop a team and how to bring a team along. In my six years with Billy Tubbs I learned a totally different style of basketball. We won a lot of games and I learned how to play up-tempo, and I learned a lot of things just riding in a car with him going to see a recruit. (San Diego head coach) Brad Holland was a great guy to work for and a great people person. He’s a very good coach, but was also very good at getting to know people and pushing the buttons to get the best out of them.”
It was Fish’s relationship with Holland that first put the Treasure State on his radar. “Brad was born in Montana, and raved all the time to me about how proud he was to be from here. His uncles came out to San Diego once a year to see a game, and the pride he had in being from Montana is something I’ll never forget.”
The more he learned about the Bobcat program, Fish said, the more familiar it seemed. “All of my research kept coming back to the potential of the basketball program and the excellence of the University,” he said. “The fans have a great love for the Bobcats. What the school has done with the football program, getting 19,000 fans to games, is something that attracted me because it’s similar to when we took over at Oregon. Coach (Chip) Kelly had that football program no. one in the country and we kind of drafted off of that while we built our program. The way Coach (Rob) Ash has the football team playing here, with the great crowds and the love of that team, I want to do the same thing we did at Oregon.”
A native of Seymour, Ind., Fish played under Clem Haskins for two seasons (1984-86) at Western Kentucky, with the Hilltoppers winning 37 games, including a 23-8 record as a sophomore. The next year he transferred to Marshall, and during his time there the Thundering Herd compiled a 64-29 record, including a pair of league titles.
After earning his BA degree from Marshall in 1989, Fish remained at the Huntington, W.V. school to serve as a graduate assistant for Altman. Altman earned Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors that season, and after he moved to Kansas State Fish remained at his alma mater for two seasons as an assistant coach under Dwight Freeman. In 1992-93 he rejoined Altman in Manhattan, Kans., as film coordinator, and when Altman moved to Creighton in 1994 Fish went along for two seasons in the same capacity.
Fish has enjoyed success at every stop in his basketball career. In 2009 he was named to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team for his legendary high school career, and he helped lead two different programs to NCAA Tournament berths as a player. In each of his four stops as an assistant coach Fish’s squads advanced to the NCAA Tournament at least once.
Fish’s work taking over program’s not at the peak of success impressed Fields. “I knew my top candidate had to be a person who had worked at programs that didn’t have a big advantage in resources, and also at programs that weren’t enjoying great success when he arrived on the staff. Brian rose to the top in that regard, and my connection with him is going to be very important because we will have to work together to achieve the success that we both want.”
BRIAN FISH COACHING TIMELINE
2010-14 University of Oregon Assistant Coach
2004-10 Creighton University Assistant Coach
2003-04 University of San Diego Assoc. Head Coach
2002-03 University of San Diego Assistant Coach
1996-2002 TCU Assistant Coach
1994-96 Creighton University Film Coordinator
1992-94 Kansas State Univ. Film Coordinator
1990-92 Marshall University Assistant Coach
1989-90 Marshall University Graduate Assistant
BA in Sports Management, Marshall University, 1989
BRIAN FISH PLAYING CAREER
1987-89 Marshall University (redshirted in 1986-87)
1984-86 Western Kentucky University
— MSU Sports Information