There was little tradition, little success and one of the best players in program history, Tony Gwynn, had become a superstar with baseball's San Diego Padres.
That all changed under Fisher.
On Saturday, he earned his 300th win with the Aztecs in yet another milestone in his 14-plus seasons on Montezuma Mesa. Xavier Thames scored 24 points and Winston Shepard had 17 to lead No. 5 San Diego State to a 65-56 victory over Colorado State.
With leading rebounder Josh Davis sidelined by a bruised knee and forward Dwayne Polee out with an illness, the Aztecs (19-1, 8-0 Mountain West) won their 18th straight game and reached 8-0 in conference play for the first time in the program's 93-year history.
In the locker room afterward, the players jumped up and down around Fisher and Thames presented him the game ball.
"He tried not to smile but he smiled," Thames said.
"He was happy," Shepard said.
"It's not me, it's we," Fisher said. "Xavier Thames has been a part of a whole lot of victories for us, and Tim Shelton, who was standing in the corner, a whole lot of victories for us. It was neat." Shelton, a former Aztecs player, is now director of player development.
Getting to 300 wins "says we've been here for a while. Not just me," Fisher said. "I reflect back on our first year and the guys that were here that fought just as hard as this group did and we weren't quite good enough to win. A lot of them are still hanging around and calling and emailing and texting to congratulate and I tell all of them, 'Thank you. You're part of it. You drove the stake pretty deep to build the foundation of what we're doing.' We've had a lot of players come and go and are still connected to the program. That makes me feel great."
Fisher, who turns 69 on March 24, said he's in no hurry to retire. Long-time assistant Brian Dutcher is designated as the head coach in waiting.
"I said in the locker room, 'I don't know, Winston, whether if you want to hear this, and I'm sure Dutcher doesn't want to hear it, but I might go after 400 before I get out of here,'" Fisher said. "Who knows? I might feel good If I get teams like this. It makes it fun."
Fisher's first victory at SDSU came on Nov 24, 1999, 73-57 against UC Riverside. The Aztecs were only 5-23 that season, including 0-14 in league play.
It didn't take him long to pump life into the program.
The Aztecs are one victory shy of their 10th 20-win season under Fisher. They have gone to a school-record four straight NCAA tournaments and six overall.
SDSU is the 18th school to have a coach win 300 or more games. Fisher is 300-172 with the Aztecs and 484-254 for his coaching career.
"He's my favorite coach. He's my favorite guy," CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. "I'm happy for him, 300 wins."
Jon Octeus scored 24 for the Rams (12-10, 3-6), who have dropped three in a row and four of five.
Rams guard Daniel Bejarano, CSU's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, played only three minutes before being benched by Eustachy.
"He has a lot of growing up to do," Eustachy said. "I didn't like the way some things went down, so I decided not to play him the rest of the game. I just didn't like his body language."
Playing with their highest ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 since briefly reaching No. 4 in 2010-11, the Aztecs had a fast start and were never really threatened, taking leads of 11-4 and 25-8.
Colorado State didn't reach double digits until Octeus made the first of two free throws with 4:10 left to make it 27-10. SDSU's biggest lead, 29-10, came after Dakarai Allen hit a bank shot.
The Rams scored 10 points in the final 3:35 to close to 32-20 at halftime.
The Rams pulled to 54-47 with 5:12 left and had the ball before Thames grabbed a big rebound and Shepard had a tip-in with 3:16 left. Quinn hit a jumper about a minute later to make it 58-47.
"They are No. 5 for a reason and I thought we hung right in there with them once we got settled down," Eustachy said. "They're deep. They're good."
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