There are a record nine first-year head coaches in the NBA to start the 2013-14 season. With so many new faces around the league, Paul Forrester profiled the many challenges that await the rookie leaders. In his reporting, he spoke one-on-one with several of the head coaches, including new Grizzlies lead man Dave Joerger.
Joerger, 39, takes over the Grizz after serving as an assistant with the team for the past six seasons. Last season, he helped orchestrate a defense that allowed the fewest points (89.3 per game) in the league. He's also won a combined five minor league titles as a head coach in the Continental Basketball Association, International Basketball Association and the NBA's Development League.
Joerger recently discussed his upcoming NBA head coaching debut with SI:
SI: Is the transition to becoming a head coach in the NBA different than the process in the minors?
Dave Joerger: In general you don't have the continuity year to year in the minor leagues. Here, I have the continuity of having been here and having several of our roster players, especially our core, still intact.
SI: How will going from an assistant to a head coach change your relationship with the players?
Joerger: I've never been buddies with players. I think we have a relationship that's built on respect and I think that will continue. I'm not trying to be different than I have been a lot. There will certainly be a couple differences but if I come out there as somebody that's different and not me, then I'm going to be fake and that won't go well.
SI: How will your approach to the players change after taking the team?
Joerger: Perhaps you're more critical when players do something incorrectly; your message is perhaps a little less positive as a head coach than when you're an assistant, where you make those corrections in a little more positive fashion.
SI: Will the Grizz's offensive and defensive schemes change much under you?
Joerger: That's one of the positives about having coached in the minor leagues. My philosophy wasn't that I have one style of play Each year, and maybe even within a year, your style may change throughout the course of a season because players come and go, and certainly from year to year your team changes dramatically. So whatever it takes for us to have the best system for the players that we have is what we're shooting for, and I don't think it would be wise on my part to throw everything that we built over the past couple of years. I hope to make some changes, but by and large we hope to stay steady.
SI: What tweaks will you make?
Joerger: I hope that we'll play a little bit faster and get the ball up and down the floor a little bit quicker and play with a quicker pace, and not for the reason of getting a quick shot unless something presents itself at the rim. But by getting up and using a larger part of the shot clock, we hope to be able to move the ball more and then attack inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph or creating better opportunities for drives with Mike Conley.
SI: You mentioned in your introductory news conference that you want to avoid "vomit basketball." How do you prevent bad shots when speeding up the pace?
Joerger: I don't think it'll be hard to define what is a good shot and what is a bad shot. Certainly I don't want players to look over and wonder if it is a good shot or not. I want the players to have confidence that if a shot presents itself, and in their role is defined as a good shot for them, that they take that shot, whether it be at 20 seconds or three seconds.
SI: Has your relationship changed with your assistants at all?
Joerger: I don't remember who told me, but in some jobs they say you don't have to like each other, you just have to respect each other. As coaches I don't think that's true. We spend more time together than I do with my family for large parts of the year, so it is important that we like each other. You want to get talented people, that's the biggest requirement, talent, and then loyalty is right there next to it.
SI: Is there anything you would do differently than before career-wise?
Joerger: Yeah, I'm young now; I was really young then. Hopefully I've matured and those experiences have given me some depth of understanding. The mistakes that I made or the things that I did wrong, hopefully I can avoid those.
The minor leagues for me was an opportunity to pitch my science lab every single day. I got to go there and have practice and try things that I wanted to try and try things I wanted to do and it was all part of my decisions. One of the things that I learned, and I talked to Rick Carlisle about this, too, don't try to do things that you're not good at. [Such as] put in an offense that I don't know anything about, for example.
SI: Who are some of your biggest coaching influences?
Joerger: I'm not so concerned with schemes so much as overall philosophy of guys I respect greatly, like Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich. Flip Saunders. George Karl. Those are guys that I've gotten to watch at a distance, so I've gotten to watch them coach and practice and whatnot.
SI: What is your overall philosophy when it comes to basketball?
Joerger: By and large, quicker pace and ball movement.
SI: How will you navigate your way among the front office people in Memphis now that you are tied to them even more closely than before?
Joerger: You have a relationship that's built on respect and trust. We're all working hard. They're experts in what they do, and hopefully I have a degree of expertise in doing what I've done in the NBA. You share your opinion, and it's certainly not personal, but you walk out of the room with one voice and moving in one direction.
SI: Do you use analytics in your coaching? Will you use more now that you're a head coach?
Joerger: [I'm] Not sure I will use it more. It's something that I like but you certainly don't make decisions based on numbers. It definitely comes into the area of getting as much information as you can to make decisions. It can be difficult at times to use in-game stuff but leading up to games and evaluating games and groups of games.
SI: With all of the new coaching blood in the league, will it be difficult to scout their tendencies?
Joerger: Maybe in the first part of the year, but after everybody has played 15 games everybody will know what everybody else is doing; I don't think it will be too difficult.
SI: Any major concerns heading into the season as a first-time NBA head coach?
Joerger: You have to manage expectations as a head coach. Get your team focused and just do the best you can and make sure everybody's on the same page. That's not something that I stress about -- we have a good team, so my job is just to put them in position to be successful.
I'm going to judge myself based on what happens over the next nine months, so the body of work won't be judged against one year of our team last year.