Thursday March 20th, 2008

Gonzaga basketball coach Dan Fitzgerald brought his third assistant into his office one day in 1993 and made an offer. Fitzgerald, also the Bulldogs' athletic director, knew Bill Grier could barely scrape by as a restricted-earnings coach (salary: about $5,000). Fitzgerald also knew he needed a coach for his new women's golf team, which he'd created to keep the school Title IX compliant.

"[Fitzgerald] had tried very hard to get some assistant pros in the area to take it, but nobody wanted it," Grier said Thursday. "He finally came in and sat me down and asked me if I would take it. I looked at him like, 'You're crazy.'"

Grier wanted to concentrate on basketball, but he also wanted to eat. So he accepted.

"That was my first [collegiate] head-coaching job," said Grier, the first-year San Diego coach who will lead the 13th-seeded Toreros against fourth-seeded Connecticut on Friday.

Back then, Grier couldn't imagine taking his own team to the NCAA tournament. When he wasn't helping fellow assistants ? and future Gonzaga head coaches Dan Monson and Mark Few ? draw up game plans, he passed out flyers to recruit players to his non-scholarship golf team or tried to keep his No. 5 player from cracking 300 for her two-day total.

The first year was the toughest as the 14-handicapper juggled hoops and one of the nation's worst golf teams. "We were awful," Grier said. "We got throttled in every tournament."

But as Grier, Monson and Few recruited the players that would put Gonzaga on the basketball map, Grier's golfers slowly improved. Prior to his fourth and final year pulling double-duty, Grier learned he could offer a scholarship. When that scholarship's recipient, Lisa Wasinger, came for her official visit, Grier offered her a warning: Our team is not very good.

"I didn't really get the full-court press," said the current Lisa Johnson, a first-team All-West Coast Conference player as a freshman in 1997 who now coaches the men's and women's golf teams at Idaho.

Still, Johnson said, the players loved Grier, whom they dubbed "Billy Idol" because of his devastating good looks. They also understood his plight. "He was very overworked," Johnson said.

When Fitzgerald retired in 1997, each assistant slid down a chair. Monson became the head coach, Few the lead assistant and Grier the second assistant, which meant he no longer needed the golf job to put food on the table. Less than two years later, the Bulldogs were in Phoenix, and forward Casey Calvary tipped in a missed shot to shock Florida in the Sweet 16. Grier can still recite Gus Johnson's call of the play from memory.

Monson left for Minnesota after that season, and Few and Grier slid down again. Grier eventually signed a contract that promised him the program if Few left, but by 2007, Grier had realized Few planned to retire in Spokane.

"It had gotten to the point where I knew Mark, in all likelihood, wasn't going to leave. And I don't blame him. He's built that thing into a national-level power, and he's able to live a lifestyle that fits him," Grier said. "He's able to spend time with his family. He's able to get out and fly-fish ? all the things that I think would be difficult for him if he went to a different program. ... I knew that eventually, for me to reach my goal of being a head coach, I was going to have to leave the nest."

So Grier left for San Diego. In his first year, he beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena and beat Few and Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament final to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament. Friday, Grier will try to take the next step in his quest to turn San Diego into the next Gonzaga. Unfortunately for Grier, that quest has left little time for the sport that gave him his first collegiate head-coaching job.

"My game kind of sucks right now," Grier said. "Which is too bad, because I live in such a good area to play golf."

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