With the NBA season currently on hold due to COVID-19, Grizzly Bear Blues has filled the void with various lists and rankings. We’ve polled the world of Twitter and proclaimed Zach Randolph as the Greatest Grizzly. We’ve looked at underrated individual seasons of Grizzly players, we’ve ranked the Grit and Grind Grizzlies seasons and many other things. Next up is ranking the greatest coaches in Grizzlies history. The Grizzlies have had 14 different head coaches in their 25 seasons, which adds up to them having a ton of very questionable coaches. That said, they do have a few that have worked out quite well.
Honorable Mention: Taylor Jenkins (32-33)
Through just 65 games before his first season as Grizzlies head coach was put on hold due to COVID-19, Jenkins has already proven to be one of the better Grizzlies coaches as his team vastly overachieved compared to preseason expectations. The Grizzlies are currently 32-33 under Taylor Jenkins and sit in the 8th spot in the Western Conference Standings. It’s a little too soon to rank Jenkins in the top 5 with such little sample size, but the fact that he’s already an honorable mention is a testament to his talent as well as the poor coaching history of the Grizzlies.
5. David Fizdale (50-51)
David Fizdale had arguably the quickest rise and fall of any Grizzlies head coach. His hiring was considered a great move by the Grizzlies after Fizdale spent many years on the Heat bench winning NBA Finals with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Fizdale’s Grizzlies started off his first season hot, with Marc Gasol coming out of nowhere to become a 3-point sniper and Mike Conley coming out of the gate with a newfound confidence in his scoring abilities. The Grizzlies struggled to close the season, but Fizdale quickly became a fan favorite with his “Take that for data!” rant following a loss to the Spurs in the playoffs in a game where Kawhi Leonard shot more free throws than the entire Grizzlies team. The Grizzlies would go on to lose to the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs that season.
Fizdale’s second season with the team went south quick as the team struggled to a 7-12 start before Fizdale was fired a day after benching Marc Gasol in a loss to the Nets. After his firing, more stories and rumors came out about how Fizdale didn’t quite have the respect of the locker room like many had believed. From his boasting about his LeBron-led championships to downplaying Gasol’s national accolades, Fizdale soon found himself without a job. Still, with an epic rant, involvement in the Memphis community and an average record, Fizdale finds himself on the better half of the Grizzlies coaching ranks.
4. Dave Joerger (147-99)
Dave Joerger currently has the best winning percentage of all Grizzlies head coaches, winning nearly 60% of his games as head coach of the Grizzlies. Joerger inherited a solid roster that made the Western Conference Finals the year prior. Joerger was a longtime Grizzlies assistant before being promoted to Head Coach and he was the first coach to try and get the Grizzlies to catch up to the “pace and space” style of play that was gaining popularity in the NBA. In his 3 years as head coach of the Grizzlies, Joerger had a sizable amount of disagreements with the Grizzlies front office on how to build and shape their roster to fit Joerger’s ideal style of play.
Ultimately the team would always resort back to the Mike Conley/Marc Gasol pick and roll or a Z-Bo post up. Joerger’s last season as the Grizzlies coach was the season from hell in which injuries rampaged the Grizzlies roster forcing them to play a NBA record 28 different players in the season. Somehow the Grizzlies were able to make the playoffs that year before getting swept by the Spurs. The effort by the clearly undermanned Grizzlies had a major impact on Joerger who had an emotional interview after the final game of the series.
Less than two weeks later, the Grizzlies fired Joerger due to “mutual animosity” between Joerger and the Grizzlies front office. Joerger would go on to become the head coach of the Sacramento Kings. Joerger made the playoffs all 3 seasons at the helm in Memphis
, going 9-13 overall but made it past the first round just once. Joerger was a solid offensive mind for the Grizzlies and arguably the greatest out of timeout coach in Grizzlies history. Joerger seemed to have a solid play lined up for the squad each time coming out of a timeout, something many other Grizz coaches have struggled with. Joerger’s most famous out of timeout play came at the buzzer against the Kings that saw Courtney Lee score the game winning bucket on a lob from the inbounds pass.
3. Mike Fratello (95-83)
“The Czar” Mike Fratello wrapped up an excellent coaching career (667-548) in the city of Memphis. Having spent the previous 15 seasons as an analyst for various networks, the Grizzlies got Fratello away from the headset and on the sidelines for 3 mostly successful seasons. Fratello inherited a 5-11 team in 2004 and turned them around and helped lead them to the playoffs that season before getting swept by the Suns in the first round of the playoffs. Fratello led the Grizzlies to a 49-33 record and the 5th seed in the Western Conference playoffs before getting swept again, this time by the Dallas Mavericks. In his 3rd season, Fratello and the Grizzlies stumbled to start the season, going 6-24 through the first 30 games of the season.
Fratello, along with #2 on my list, is one of the more popular Grizzlies head coaches. His 95-83 record with the organization isn’t great, but his ability to quickly turnaround the team he inherited shows how good of a coach Fratello was.
2. Hubie Brown (83-85)
Before hiring Fratello away from the analyst side of things, they did it first with Hubie Brown. The Grizzlies hired Brown 16 years after his last coaching gig to replace the historically bad Sydney Lowe. Brown’s hiring was controversial as he was already 69 years old, making him the oldest coach in the NBA at the time. Brown went just 28-46 in his first season as Grizzlies head coach but had a major turnaround going 50-32 and making the playoffs as the 6th seed while being named the NBA’s Coach of the Year. It was the first ever playoff appearance by the Grizzlies but they ended up getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Brown’s 3rd season as Grizzlies head coach didn’t quite build upon the success of the season prior. Brown was forced to delegate a lot of his duties as head coach due to some health concerns before he ultimately resigned on Thanksgiving in 2004 with the Grizzlies sitting at just 5-11 to start the season. Brown resigned in large part due to health concerns but there were also growing rumors about the negative attitudes of Jason Williams, Bonzi Wells and James Posey playing a role in Brown’s resigning. Brown was replaced by the aforementioned Mike Fratello.
1. Lionel Hollins (415-214)
Lionel Hollins is clearly a step above the others in the Grizzlies coaching ranks. He has the most wins of any coach in franchise history and he has also taken the Grizzlies the deepest in the playoffs they’ve ever been. Hollins was the interim head coach for 60 games for the Vancouver Grizzlies the 1999-2000 season and spent 4 games as the interim head coach in 2004.
A majority of Hollins’ success came when he took over as head coach during the 2008-2009 season. It took him until the 2010-2011 season, but Hollins was a key cog in turning the franchise into a legitimate team in the NBA. Hollins’ 2011-2012 squad, led by Zach Randolph, not only won the franchise’s first playoff game but also their first series when they became the second 8th seed in NBA history to defeat a 1 seed in a 7 game series. The Grizzlies then put up a valiant effort before falling to the OKC Thunder in 7 games in the semifinals. Hollins led the Grizzlies to 41 wins in the lockout-shortened NBA season of 2012-2013 before falling to the Clippers in 7 games in the first round of the playoffs. In his final season at the helm, Hollins led the Grizzlies to a franchise record 56 wins as they catapulted their way to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Hollins’ Grizzlies tenure ended abruptly after that Conference Finals appearance as the Grizzlies did not renew his contract that offseason due to differing views between Hollins and the front office. Hollins was the first in what became a lengthy list of coaches who apparently couldn’t get along with the Chris Wallace-led front office. Still, Hollins will go down as one of the Grizzlies greatest coaches of all time.
He didn’t get the publicity and recognition that the Core 4 did, but Hollins played just as much of a role as they did in making the Grizzlies a relevant NBA franchise.