I had the pleasure this afternoon of sitting down with former Michigan fullback Dave Fisher, who played under Bump Elliott from 1963-1966. Fisher was part of the 1964 Rose Bowl champions, led the team in rushing yards in his senior season, and was named First-Team All-Big Ten and Academic All-American in 1966. I sat down with Dave today and got his opinion on the Free Press scandal, Rich Rodriguez, and more. Here are some excerpts of our conversation (which deviated off subject sometimes, but he had a ton of good stories, so it’s a very free-flowing conversation).
His reaction to the scandal: “I was concerned that it’s another attack on Michigan, which has always been a great place, I think tries to play by the rules. Rodriguez claims to be doing it by the rules, and he’s the one that knows. If he says, “Ace, I want you here at eight in the morning and I want you home at eight tonight and I want you to watch film all day,” then I think that’s a violation of the rules. If you go in there and say, “Coach, I’m going to be in here looking at film and then go lift weights,” and do all these legal things and then have whatever is in the 20-hour [limit] do that for the 20 hours and you haven’t broken any rules. If it’s peer pressure, your buddies are doing it and you want to do it to make it, that’s not Rodriguez. The real facts, we don’t know. What I don’t understand is why somebody doesn’t get a court order to at least see the transcript of Rosenberg’s [interviews]. Rosenberg, ironically, is a U-M graduate, and he’s stabbing his own school to put his own name in lights, which might end up putting his name dim forever. Especially is he’s wrong.”
On if he thinks there’s an agenda behind the report: “Oh I do. There’s a lot of people who hate Rodriguez. There’s a lot of people who love him. I frankly like him a lot as a person. I don’t have any problems with him.”
“Somebody behind this either wants to hurt Rich, or wants to hurt Michigan … When you ride so high, there’s always some people that want to put you down, and there’s some people that want to put you higher. Unfortunately, that’s life.”
On Rodriguez: “He takes it seriously. I mean, if you were making $2 million a year and going to get fired if these kids don’t do what you want them to do, you’d get upset too. He’s going to reap the reward and he’s going to take the heat. There was a kid that was a first-round draft choice of the New England Patriots, I think. He drops the ball and Lloyd’s the clown. [ed: No idea who he’s talking about here, but the point stands regardless.] What mentality does our society have to blame the coach for everything and 18-22 year old kid does out there on the field? I’m more concerned than anything. If it’s true, it’s a problem, but I can’t believe he would risk doing that. He seems like a nice, ethical person. Do many people get as close to the line as they can without crossing it? Yeah. Do people look for loopholes? Yeah. Is he one of those people? I don’t know him that well.
“I can tell you one interesting story, though. I couldn’t play as a freshman. We could only play three years when I played. My sophomore year, I had a lab I had to take, and it could only be taken from 1-5 on Monday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday. Back then, Monday was a slow day. You would go in and look at films of the upcoming opponent and then go out there and, they called it “break a sweat,” just run around until you perspired see if you had any sore muscles that you didn’t know you had. Then Friday, you just warmed up before the game. So I went in to Bump and I said, “Bump, I’ve got a conflict, what do I do?” And he said, “Fish, you came here for what reason?” I said, “Well of course, to play football for you and to get an education. I thought this was the best place for me to do that.” He said, “You just answered your question. You came here to get an education. You take that class, and I’ll get you through the football part of the deal.” That’s what he put his emphasis on, and that’s what Rodriguez claims to do, to keep these kids in school. Some of them don’t care about getting an ‘A’. I wanted to be an Academic All-American and was lucky enough to do it. But everybody doesn’t have the same goals I had. I had some friends who just wanted to get a degree and be a pro football player, and a lot of them made it. But, at this point in time, we need to believe Rodriguez. Now, if five real people come out and say he’s not telling the truth, then that changes the game for him, big time, and the university.”
On prior coaching staffs: “Lloyd had a bit of ethics, like when you leave here, you’re going to be a better person. Lloyd and Moeller and Schembechler all had a philosophy: you ask them how good this team is, and they’d respond, “Ask me in ten years. What have they done?” Did they make society a better place? Did they become drug addicts? What did they do? I don’t know that Rich would give the same answer, I’ve never asked him. I think he’s a good guy.”
On his hopes for Rodriguez and Tate Forcier: “I, personally, hope he does better than anybody can dream. Have you met Forcier? How much bigger than you is he? I saw that kid, they were playing two-hand touch, can’t tackle the quarterback, some big defensive lineman, 6-7, went like that to him [Dave pushes his arm out] and he hit the ground and hurt his wrist. When that guy hits him head up … whenever you set yourself up as being the number one running back, the number one passer, there’s a guy on defense that’s going to take you out when he gets the chance. Not violently, not against the rules, but he’s going to put Ace Anbender on his Anbender. That’s why they play. That’s part of the spirit of a defensive player. They don’t get a lot of accolades until they smear somebody, crush a quarterback. I worry about Forcier. If you look at Terrelle Pryor, he didn’t burn up the Big Ten last year. In fact, there were a lot of people … I’m from Ohio, so I got a lot of calls Monday morning about the Free Press and you’re in trouble and you’re going to forfeit this year from my buddies who went to Ohio State. There were a lot of people who thought the other kid, [Todd] Boeckman, there were a lot of people who thought that he should have been the starter. But I believe Tressel made the commitment, “You come here and you play.” He’s a man of his word I guess. I don’t know what that means about Boeckman, you come in here and you’re a captain and you don’t play because I got this kid to come in who in four years may flunk out, may drop out to go to the pros, or may be the next answer to sliced bread. Who knows what that kid’s going to do? I’ve heard stories about him, too, where you wonder if he’ll get them in trouble.”
On whether you have to bend the rules to be a winning program these days: “First, you have to come to the moral issue, which is: as long as you stay on this side of the line, is everything okay? You don’t like the rules, change them. There’s a lot of rules in society people don’t agree with. Some of them approach them far differently than other people do. To me, if you abide by the rules, and the rules are not appropriate, change them.
“You know, Michigan has been so successful that sometimes they are a leader in changing rules. When Bo came here, by the 70’s they’d developed a network where all the old players across the country … they write letters to kids in high school talking about how great Michigan is. Anyway, bottom line is they changed that rule, so alumni and ex-players can’t contact any high school stud they want to. And Michigan and Ohio State were really good at getting 125 scholarship athletes, so they’ve got 40 more kids than they’ve got today, and those kids weren’t at other schools. So, to level the playing field, they said you all can only get 85, and that’s why freshmen get to play.
“Again, change the rules, make them the same for everybody. It’s obvious Northwestern, which is one of the rungs of the Big Ten, or at least they were, had 7-on-7 football and a kid died [Rashidi Wheeler, in 2001]. If we’re abiding by the rule, there are people who will spend their life finding that gray area, and get as close to that gray area as they can. They want to go 78 when it’s 70 because they can get away with it. They don’t want to go 79 and get a ticket, or 80 and get a ticket. You’re asking a heavy-duty moral question that I can’t answer.”
On whether the scandal will distract the players: “Frankly, I think it will be a bigger distraction to Rodriguez, because, just like you, you’re gonna write an article or whatever you’re gonna do, you’re gonna work on it our you’re going to say, “Hey, it’s a beautiful day, I’m gonna go take my girlfriend out,” or go do what you like to do with your male friends, and it’s a distraction from what should be your primary focus. Some of the players will go, “Man, this is gonna hurt us more and I’m not gonna make it in the pros.” I believe that the three of those guys that left when Rodriguez came in left because they knew Mallett was gonna leave, and they didn’t think Sheridan and Steven Threet could get them the ball, so how are they going to be a first-round receiver choice? Now, do I know that? No. I heard that through the grapevine and through some logic of my own. Let’s face it: a lot of the kids here aren’t going to make $2 million being rocket scientists, where they can jump for the rockets and make it. Society sets these pay standards: entertainers make a lot of money, janitors don’t pay too well. I don’t think I answered your question. [Here I ask him again if the players will be distracted by the scandal.] I think you’re either able to focus on it or you’re not. Frankly, I think it’s more of a personality issue. You might walk out of here and your cellphone rings and some young lady you’re interested in says, “Ace, let’s go have a malt.” Well, you’re gonna say, “Sure,” or you’re gonna say, “No, I’ve got to get this thing done I’m working on.” Is either one right or wrong? No, but that’s all of our personalities.
“People say, “What’s it like to be in there with 100,000 people looking at you?” I can honestly tell you it’s no different than sitting here talking with you. All that noise around you, that goes away, if you’re focused. If I know they’re going to give me the ball and I’m going to run there with it, or I’ve got to block here, that’s all I’m thinking about. Everybody’s got their own job to do. I’m sure there are some guys that are not focused; they’re looking up in the stands to see if their girlfriend is there. That’s the guy that drops the ball, doesn’t catch it when it’s in his hands, that’s because they’re not focused on what their job is.”