Fisher attended Illinois State University, where he helped lead the Redbirds to the Final Four of the 1967 NCAA College Division Basketball Tournament.
Fisher moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1982 and took an assistant coaching job at the University of Michigan after serving as an assistant coach at Western Michigan University since 1979. In 1989, during the final week of the regular season, Michigan head coach Bill Frieder agreed to take the coaching job at Arizona State University beginning the next season. Though Frieder intended to coach Michigan through the end of the 1989 NCAA tournament and told athletic director Bo Schembechler that he would stay to coach the team in the tournament, Schembechler responded, "The hell you will!" He immediately fired Frieder and announced that Fisher would be promoted to replace him. When announcing the promotion of Fisher, Schembechler famously said, "I don't want someone from Arizona State coaching the Michigan team. A Michigan man is going to coach Michigan."
Initially, Fisher was not expected to retain the position after the season. However, Fisher led the Wolverines to an improbable NCAA championship that season, thanks to a strong performance by forward Glen Rice. Schembechler hired him as the school's permanent head coach a week after the championship game. Michigan credits the 1988–89 regular season to Frieder and the NCAA tournament to Fisher. Because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the timing of Fisher's hiring, he is the only person to win the NCAA Men's Division I national championship without having ever experienced a loss as the team's head coach.
The next two seasons of the Fisher era were struggles. However, in 1991, Fisher signed the most talented incoming freshman class of all time. High school stars Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson, Jimmy King, and Juwan Howard all signed with Fisher and Michigan, forming what became known as the "Fab Five". Together, they helped lead the Wolverines to the national title game in their freshman year, only to lose to Duke. As sophomores, they again reached the title game, this time losing to North Carolina. In that game, Webber was called for a technical foul with 11 seconds remaining in the game when he signaled for a timeout when the Wolverines had none left.
After the title-game loss to the Tar Heels, Webber went pro; Rose and Howard followed after an elite eight loss to the eventual National Champion Arkansas Razorbacks. The Wolverines would not reach the same heights until 2013, although they reached the postseason each of the next five seasons and won the 1997 National Invitation Tournament.
In October 1997, Michigan fired Fisher as a result of an off-court scandal (see section below).
Fisher was out of coaching for the 1997–98 season before taking a job as an assistant with the Sacramento Kings.
In 1999, Fisher took over as coach of a San Diego State program that had suffered losing records in 13 of the previous 14 years. In the season before he arrived, the Aztecs had won just four games, but within two seasons Fisher had brought the team up to a .500 record, and led them to a 21–12 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance in year three of his regime. He has since led them to seven other NCAA tourneys, and five appearances in the National Invitation Tournament.
In 1997, after it was revealed that Maurice Taylor had visited Ed Martin, a retired Ford electrician, the school launched an investigation. After the investigators questioned Fisher's role in arranging complimentary tickets for Martin, Fisher was fired a week before practice began for the 1997–98 season.
Later, additional facts surfaced that further damaged the program's reputation. In 2002, an indictment unsealed in a Detroit federal court charged Ed Martin with running an illegal gambling operation and money laundering. Additionally, it claimed that Martin gave Webber $280,000 in illicit loans while Webber was in high school and college, with another $336,000 allegedly going to three other former Wolverine players – Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock. Martin ultimately pleaded guilty, but died in February 2003.
As a result of the revelations, Michigan imposed its own sanctions on the basketball program in 2002, vacating its two Final Four games from the 1992 NCAA Tournament and its standing as the tournament's runner-up. It also vacated the entire 1992–93 season, as well as every game from 1995–96 to 1998–99. Michigan also withdrew from postseason consideration for the 2002–03 season, and removed the banners hanging in Crisler Arena that commemorated their post-season appearances and removed references to the named players' records. The move came because the payments may have compromised the four players' amateur status. The NCAA accepted Michigan's sanctions, and additionally placed the school on probation until 2006. It also ordered Michigan to disassociate itself from the four players until 2013.
The discoveries did not impact Fisher's career with San Diego State (and no new allegations have occurred in conjunction with that program). Fisher denied any knowledge of the Martin misconduct. The NCAA ultimately faulted Fisher for allowing Martin access to his players (though his ties to Michigan dated to the Frieder era), but otherwise cleared him of wrongdoing.
In 1999, Fisher took over the basketball program at San Diego State University. The Aztecs had not been to the postseason since their NCAA appearance in 1984–1985.
In his third year, Fisher led the Aztecs to their first Mountain West Conference tournament title, and finished with a 21–12 record and continued the upward surge of the program. They returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since that same '84–85 team. During the 2002–2003 season (his fourth year), Steve Fisher's Aztecs returned to the post-season when they hosted an NIT First round match against UCSB. The Aztecs earned their first ever Division 1 post-season win. After two rebuilding seasons (2003–2004 and 2004–2005), the Aztecs returned to the NCAA Tournament in the 2005–2006 season; Steve Fisher's seventh season. That year the Aztecs began a present 10-year streak of consecutive 20+ win seasons while capturing their first ever Mountain West Conference Regular Season Championship, and winning their second ever Mountain West Conference Tournament Championship.
In 2009, the Aztecs earned a school-record 26 victories and reached the semifinals of the NIT. It was their third consecutive trip to the NIT, and fourth consecutive post-season appearance. In the 2009–2010 season, the Aztecs won another 20+ games, won the Mountain West Conference Tournament, and earned their third NCAA Tournament trip under Fisher. In 2010–2011, the Aztecs, ranked #25 in the pre-season AP poll, were ranked #4 late in the season, the school's highest ever ranking. SDSU even received three first place votes in the Coaches' Poll at one point. They spent nearly the entire season in the top 10 and won their first NCAA Tournament game ever en route to the Sweet 16. SDSU set a school record in the 2010–11 season with 34 wins. They had 3 total losses, the first 2 against Sweet 16 team BYU (who they went on to beat in MWC Tournament Championship game) and their 3rd loss was to future NCAA Tournament winner UConn.
Overall Fisher has guided SDSU to the NCAA Tournament in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 and the postseason NIT in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2016 to go along with twelve 20-win seasons (eleven consecutive from 2005–present). Additionally, under Fisher, the Aztecs have won or shared six MWC regular season titles (2006 outright, 2011 shared with BYU, 2012 shared with New Mexico, 2014 outright, 2015 shared with Boise State, 2016 outright), and won four MWC tournaments (2002, 2006, 2010, 2011). Since the 2005–2006 season, Steve Fisher has led the Aztecs to eleven consecutive post-season appearances, including six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances—the first time the Aztecs have done this as a Division I team.
Just ten head coaches have won the NIT as well as the NCAA tournaments. The others are Nat Holman (who did it in the same year), John Calipari, Vadal Peterson, Nolan Richardson, Bobby Knight, Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Al McGuire, Dean Smith, and Jim Calhoun.
Steve Fisher won his 300th game as Head Coach of the San Diego State Aztecs Men's Basketball Program on January 31, 2014 in a game against Colorado State University. "It's not me, it's we…", remarked Coach Fisher.
On October 29, 2015, SDSU dedicated the basketball court at Viejas Arena to Steve Fisher, naming it Steve Fisher Court.
On April 10, 2017, Fisher reportedly informed San Diego State University of his intent to retire, which was followed by a formal announcement the following day that confirmed his retirement.
*Fisher served as interim coach during the 1989 NCAA tournament after Bill Frieder resigned. Michigan credits the 1988–89 regular season to Frieder and the NCAA tournament to Fisher.
^Michigan vacated its two 1992 Final Four games and its status as tournament runner-up. Official record is 24–8.
^^Entire season, including postseason tournament appearances, later vacated by the school.
Michigan total record includes games subsequently vacated by the school.J. J. O'Brien