The Commercial Appeal
READY TO GROWL
Dave Joerger looks primed to lead the Griz.
Veteran minor league coach Duane Ticknor has spent a lot of years mentoring new Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger.
Although they haven’t always been on the same team, the almost father-son duo have always been on the same page.
It didn’t take Ticknor long to realize that Joerger was an excellent student of coaching, someone who absorbs every bit of information.
Perhaps the first indication of that came in 1997 when Joerger was an assistant coach with the Dakota Wizards (Bismarck, N.D.) of the International Basketball Association. Ticknor served as head man of the Black Hills Posse when they faced the Wizards in the playoffs.
Ticknor remembers vividly a defensive adjustment the Wizards made on a pick-and-roll during the second half of a game.
“It was an adjustment that they made that I knew was Dave’s adjustment,” Ticknor said. “It was something that we had talked about a couple of months before. I was thinking, ‘Why did I open my mouth?’ ”
Ticknor still laughs about that game, even though he’s quick to point out: “But we won the championship.”
Joerger took over as head coach of the Wizards a short time later at 26 years old, and won a title in his first season at the helm.
“That,” Ticknor said, “tells you what kind of coach he is. His work
ethic is unmatched. The guy lives and breathes basketball. It’s not uncommon for him and I to be talking at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Joerger’s effectiveness as a head coach extended to player development. He had 18 players called up to the NBA between 2003 and 2007.
Former Griz Shane Battier, who recently won an NBA title with the Miami Heat, is a believer in Joerger. Battier’s respect for Joerger quickly swelled during his second stint with the franchise after being traded from Houston in 2011.
Battier and Joerger regularly talked analytics. They have never settled one dispute — over whether to worry more about corner 3-pointers versus the long-range shot from the arc.
“Teams live and die by the corner 3 and I’d say don’t worry about the arc 3,” Battier said. “He would never let me win that argument. It was all in jest but it was a good back-and-forth.
“He’s got a great mind for basketball. He really thinks about the game, which sounds weird to say about a coach. But he has an open mind about coaching the game of basketball. He’s always looking how to approach it a different way.”
Griz CEO Jason Levien praised Joerger for embracing best practices and innovation.
Miami Heat guard Mike Miller understood what Levien meant while playing for the Griz when Joerger joined the franchise as an assistant to Marc Iavaroni in 2007.
Count Miller among those people not too surprised that Joerger quickly became a lead assistant coach and earned the chance to guide the franchise because of his well-rounded approach.
Joerger’s strength was initially as a creative offensive coach upon entering the NBA. He then served as the Grizzlies’ defensive coordinator and was instrumental, along with guard Tony Allen, in developing an elite defense over the past few seasons when Lionel Hollins was head coach.
Current Heat and former Grizzlies forward Shane Battier,
on new Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger
“What really helps him is he’s been in that assistant role long enough in a successful situation,” Miller said. “He’s been groomed for this.”
The question of whether Joerger can successfully transition from an assistant coach to the head guy on the same team likely won’t go away until the season starts. Assistant coaches generally act as a player’s friend. The head coach doles out playing time, demands accountability and confronts when there is adversity.
Joerger, holding true to his inquisitive form, often sat with former Griz assistant coach Damon Stoudamire on team flights. Why not pick the brain of a former star NBA player about what it takes to earn the respect of mega-millionaires?
Stoudamire’s influence on Joerger dealing with the psychology of NBA players is evident by Joerger’s relationship with key Griz players.
Point guard Mike Conley says Joerger has credibility because of how he’s carried himself. There’s a comfort zone and a trust factor already in place.
“He’s personable, easy to talk to and a great listener,” Conley said. “When he’s had opportunities to direct us, he’s been very much to the point. It’ll be different for him. We’ll make it as easy as possible. We’re going to try to make it a smooth transition.”
During his introductory press conference last week, Joerger sounded as if relating to the players and earning their trust and cooperation would be the least of his worries.
“They know me in one way. They know me as an assistant coach,” Joerger said. “I know what my voice is as a head coach and they’re about to see that. I talked to Tony (Wednesday) night and I said, ‘I’m going to love on you. But if I love on you guys all the time then you’ll have no respect for me. And I’m going to have my foot in your rear end. And if I do that all the time you’re going to tune me out in about three seconds.’ I’ve been a head coach for seven years. I know where the line is. Relationships with players are built with respect, trust and hard work.”
Said Ticknor: “His track record is pretty solid. Once they see what he’s doing, they’ll buy into it. He really gets guys to play the right way. He’s always gotten the players to believe in what he’s doing. He can sell to the players what he’s trying to get done.”
In Ticknor, Joerger found early on a seasoned coach willing to quench his thirst for knowledge.
In Joerger, the Grizzlies are confident they have a leader who can achieve success in the NBA using the same methods that worked so well in the minor leagues.
“I would not be able to be here without having been a head coach,” Joerger said. “There are guys in this league who have gotten jobs and haven’t been a head coach before. For me, those seven years in the trenches, dealing with all the players and all the things that happen in a game — the pressure situations, the playoff games — those things as a head coach prepared me for this more than anything.”