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Perseverance, loyalty, patience and toughness highlight Brian Dutcher’s path to Final Four

From the Fab Five to the 619: Dutcher leads San Diego State to program’s first Final Four

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-Creighton vs San Diego State
Brian Dutcher has been with San Diego State since the 1999-2000 season, when the Aztecs won five games.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Dutcher didn’t have an NCAA Tournament win heading into this tournament and now two weeks later, he just punched the program’s first ticket to the Final Four. It’s been a long timing coming for Dutcher and the San Diego State program.

Last year the Aztecs blew a 14-point lead to Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A year and a week later, they knocked off the Bluejays to secure their spot in the Final Four.

That loss to Creighton was the latest example of March Madness heartbreak for Dutcher and SDSU.

Dutcher was the oldest coach to make his NCAA Tournament debut, when the Aztecs were an 11-seed in 2018. They lost to No. 6 Houston on a buzzer beater that year.

In 2020, San Diego State was the last unbeaten team. It was one of the favorites to win the national title as it was set to enter the NCAA Tournament with a 30-2 record and was ranked No. 6 in the country when the Big Dance was canceled due to COVID-19.

The following year, the Aztecs were a six-seed but got upset by a hot-shooting Syracuse team in the first round.

To say Dutcher’s Aztecs have been disappointed around tournament time is an understatement.

His .748-win percentage (150-46) is the best in program history. He is also 10-8 against Top 25 opponents.

This year the Aztecs had another stellar season on the back of their fourth nationally ranked defense.

In the first round of this years NCAA Tournament, the Aztecs beat an upstart Charleston team that was a trendy upset pick. SDSU held the Cougars to their lowest scoring total of the season at 57. The win that got the monkey off Dutcher’s back as he earned his first NCAA tournament victory. The Aztecs then dominated Furman in the second round.

Things got pretty crazy when the second weekend happened. The Aztecs achieved the best win in school history by upsetting the overall No. 1 seed Alabama 71-64. Coming off that emotional high, the Aztecs got their opportunity to enact their one year revenge on Creighton to get to the sport’s biggest stage.

While this was shocking to some, it wasn’t shocking to Dutcher and the Aztecs. They have been a top-five program west of the Rockies for several years.

“I said this before, that our plan is to make it to a Final Four, to win a national championship,” he said. “So we can’t act surprised when we’re sitting up here. This is what the goal has been.”

The Aztecs beat Creighton in a 57-56 despite trailing for most of the game. A foul by Ryan Nemhard in the final seconds sent point guard Darrion Trammel to the line, where he broke the tie by going 1-for-2. The win was reminiscent how they played all season. Gritty, hard, steadfast and tough of nails.

Butcher was an assistant for all of Steve Fisher’s 18 seasons with the Aztecs, which began with a five-win season in 2000. He was also an assistant to Fisher at Michigan as well.

His father, Jim, was the longtime coach at Minnesota. While he was a student at Minnesota, Brian worked for his dad.

After one season coaching prep school, Dutcher joined Hall-of-Fame coach Lou Henson’s staff at Illinois as a graduate assistant.

Dutcher had his first full-time head coaching job at then-Division-II South Dakota State, where he turned to program into a winner during his three seasons.

From there, Dutcher joined Fisher at Michigan in 1988. They won the 1989 national championship, which is the only time an interim coaching staff led a team to the title.

Dutcher was the main recruiter that brought the Fab Five together, which is considered one of the best recruiting class in NCAA history. With that group, the team win over 100 games and had two national championship game appearances. Dutcher became known as one of the best recruiters in America ad Michigan had the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class in 1993-94 and 94-95.

It’s ironic that Dutcher played such a key role in building the greatest freshmen class of all-time yet he orchestrated his Final Four run with under-the-radar recruits, transfers and upperclassmen. Dutcher proved he can win in different ways.

From Michigan, Dutcher and Fisher came to SDSU, which had made only three trips to the NCAA Tournament in its history.

Under Dutcher and Fisher San Diego State was a regular NCAA tournament participant. They have made the Tournament 12 times since they took over, including six straight appearances between 2010-2015. Dutcher recruited Kawhi Leonard, who helped lead the Aztecs to their first ever Sweet 16 in 2011.

Dutcher assumed the reigns when Fisher retired in 2017. When you look at college basketball’s culture today, it’s had to believe Dutcher was 57 years old when he got his first Division I head coaching job

As head coach, he as a won four Mountain West regular-season crowns and three tournament titles.

Dutcher has had his share of high major coaching offers, including the chance to return to his home state of Minnesota where he was the top target for that job two years ago.

Dutcher is rewarding San Diego State with his patience and loyalty. He took the foundation he set with Fisher and elevated the Aztecs to new levels of success.

“No one believed in us all those years ago, and here we are, Final Four,” Dutcher said. “Thanks for Steve Fisher starting a great foundation and letting me take over.”