Another expansion team with growing pains
As mentioned previously, an article entitled “Pop’s Incredible Longevity” revealed that San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has coached against 307 different NBA coaches during his twenty-eight year tenure at the helm.
Since the firing of Bob Hill in 1996, Pop has consistently coached the Spurs, give or take an ejection or two. Tonight the Spurs face off against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Like the previously mentioned Toronto Raptors, the Memphis Grizzlies (née Vancouver) have a career created just a year (and change) before Pop’s tenure.
Brian Winters was the first ever coach of the Grizzlies. In their first season, they went 15-67. After an 8-35 start, the Grizzlies fired Winters and replaced him with General Manager Stu Jackson. He completed the season no better with a 6-33 record.
Jackson went back to his GM duties and placed Orlando coach Brian Hill, who had led the Magic to the Finals in 1995. Hill’s 8-42 record in the lockout season was followed by a 4-18 start om fall of 1999 that led to his firing. he was replaced by assistant Lionel Hollins.
Hollins finished out the season and returned to assistant coaching for the Grizzlies as they made their move to Memphis.
Former Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Sidney Lowe was the next to try his hand at the fledgling Grizzlies. He was with the organization from 2001-2002 accumulating back-to-back 23-59 records. He resigned after an 0-8 start to the 2002-2003 season.
Jerry West tapped the 69-year-old Hubie Brown, who was sixteen years removed from coaching, to return to the hardwood. At the time, Brown was the oldest coach in the NBA (Pop is currently 74). Brown amassed a 28-46 record in that season but followed it with a 50-32 record in 2004 giving the Grizzlies their first playoff birth and NBA Coach of the Year honors. Unfortunately, health concerns and a 5-7 start led Brown to resign. Assistant coach Hollins stepped in for four games before Mike Fratello succeeded Brown.
Fratello’s hiring was the second time he had taken over for Brown. He was able to take the Grizzlies 40-26 throughout the remainder of the season earning a return to the playoffs. His first full season was 49-33 with the Grizzlies third trip into the postseason. Conflict with players and a 6-24 start to the 2006-2007 led to his being replaced.
Tony Barone had been an assistant with the Grizzlies since 2002. He finished out the season 16-36, the league’s worst record. General manager Jerry West (the logo) resigned as well.
The hiring of Phoenix Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni was meant to usher in a new era. Another 22-60 record followed by an 11-30 start showed Iavaroni the door, bringing Hollins in again for another stint.
Hollins stayed on as another four seasons. The Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies made their way into the playoffs. In 2011, the eighth seeded Grizzlies knocked the top seeded Spurs out of the playoffs. Pop returned the favor in 2013. Despite Hollins being the most successful coach in franchise history, his contract was not renewed.
Instead, the front office elevate assistant coach Dave Joerger, who’d been with the team since 2007, into the spotlight. he stayed on for three years, reaching the playoffs each spring.
Miami Heat assistant Dave Fizdale was then handed the clipboard. The man noted by most Spurs fans for his “take that for data” post conference comment as well as his observation of then Spurs star Kawhi Leoanrd:
“He was standing next to me the other night and he wasn’t breathing. So I’m gonna check the rulebook and find out if robots are allowed to play in the NBA. Somehow, Pop and them have figured it out. They know something I don’t know. This guy bleeds antifreeze or something.”
Interesting quips aside, he did not make it through a full second season and was replaced by assistant coach J. B. Bickerstaff who finished out the season and went 33-49 in his first full season. He was fired when the Grizzlies missed the playoffs.
Since 2019, Taylor Jenkins has been at the helm. He is the most “Spursy” coach of the lot which would explain why he is on par to be the longest tenured coach for the Grizzlies. He was with the Austin Toros from 2008-2013, serving as the head coach in his final season. He went with Mike Budenholzer to Atlanta from 2013-2018 and followed him again to Milwaukee for a year before taking the job in Memphis. That’s over a decade with the Spurs system and/or one of Pop’s best known assistants.
That’s thirteen coaches, but some of these have been mentioned before. Basically about a two-year average for anyone signing on to coach. Another example of how inconsistency and impatience of a franchise lead to massive turnover.
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