You probably recognize him from pregame interviews, or maybe you’ve seen him on the sidelines holding a clipboard. You might have heard Tony Allen credit his defensive schemes, or perhaps you saw where Lionel Hollins reality-checked his coaching reputation. Or maybe you don’t know him at all. This is Dave Joerger, and if Lionel Hollins and Jason Levien don’t settle their differences soon, there’s a better-than-good chance he will take over as the Grizzlies’ next head coach. So let’s meet him.
Joerger (pronounced “YAY-ger,” as in Jägerbomb) played college ball at Concordia and Moorehead State, before working his way into a head coaching position in the minor leagues. He is one of the most successful minor league coaches of all time, winning five championships in seven seasons in the IBA, CBA, and D-League. He racked up two CBA Coach of the Year honors and a 232-117 (.665) head coaching record, and had 18 of his players called up to the NBA between 2003-07. He also led the Grizzlies’ summer league team to a perfect 5-0 record in 2009, and became just the sixth D-League head coach to earn a spot in the NBA coaching ranks. In short, he’s proved himself a winner at every level he has coached.
With the Grizzlies
Joerger joined the Grizzlies in 2007 and was appointed defensive coach when Lionel Hollins arrived, He was named the lead assistant coach in 2011. There has been some recent controversy as to who actually deserves credit for designing the Grizzlies’ defensive strategy, but since Joerger has been in charge, the Grizzlies’ defensive efficiency went from 24th in the league to 2nd. In 2012-13 Memphis led the league in points allowed (89.3). If Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Tayshaun Prince return next year (Prince being the last likely), I would imagine that Joerger could effectively maintain his defensive schemes with or without Hollins.
As for offense – well, the Grizzlies were near league-bottom in PPG this year, so you could say that there’s only room for improvement. A coach with a mind for analytics (i.e., not Hollins) might be better able to work with John Hollinger and the ownership to develop an effective, cost-efficient offensive squad on a budget.
Joerger gets great testimonials from Grizzlies brass, sportswriters, and other organizations – many of whom have eyed him for their own head coaching positions. Here’s ESPN.com’s Kevin Arnovitz:
“Joerger loves to problem-solve and grapple with game theory, and he has an appreciation of analytics. He knows which NBA point guards, in descending order, reject screens most frequently and understands how to impart that information to players. Most of all, Joerger has an acute awareness of what each player on the roster can and can’t do. Randolph won’t be asked to perform Joakim Noah tasks, and a unit’s collective shortcomings are priced into coverage schemes.”
Joerger’s approach certainly seems to mesh with the new direction of the Grizzlies’ front office, something they would warmly welcome. Numbers geeks who feel frustrated by Hollins’ instinctive lineup changes would also enjoy Joerger’s open minded and statistics-conscious coaching philosophy.
And if you’re still afraid that a coaching change would be damaging, consider this: Gregg Popovich replaced Bob Hill after a 62 win season, and is now on the verge of his fifth championship in 15 years. The Mavericks replaced Avery Johnson a year after he reached the finals and hired Rick Carlisle, who won a title. Tom Thibideau went from an assistant position in Boston to coaching the Bulls to a 62 wins in his first season, a feat which earned him Coach of the Year honors in 2011. And let’s not forget the unheralded minor league coach who joined the Bulls as an assistant, then replaced Doug Collins in 1989:
11 champ;ipnsikp[ ringhs
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) March 27, 2013