USD grad hired as Memphis Grizzlies head coach
MATTHEW ROBERSON | SPORTS EDITOR | @mroberson22
Ask any NBA fan to give you a list of the best head coaches in the league, and they would likely rattle off a who’s who of the men with the most wins, championships, and notoriety. Current coaches Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Erik Spoelstra, and Brad Stevens are typically hailed with praise when their teams are winning.
They are in charge of orchestrating effective substitution rotations, defensive schemes, and cultivating a healthy community in the team’s locker room.
But ask anyone who is engrained in the league, especially those dealing with the minutiae of daily film studies and tedious practices, who the true unsung heroes are and they will likely point to the chair directly next to the head coach.
This is the spot that David Fizdale has grown so accustomed to in his 13 seasons as an NBA assistant coach.
Before getting his first job in the NBA, the former Torero point guard was an assistant coach on the University of San Diego staff under head coach Brad Holland. His first gig in the NBA was an assistant coaching job for the Golden State Warriors.
Hired by the Warriors in 2003, when the Splash Brothers were still in their teenage years, Fizdale had the chance to work alongside head coach Eric Musselman, another graduate of USD. 13 years later Fizdale has his first head coaching job on any level, hired earlier this year to be the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Upon his hiring, Fizdale and the Grizzlies held a press conference to announce the move and introduce the USD alumnus to the city of Memphis.
“I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the greatest coaches and players in the NBA and am ready for this challenge,” Fizdale said. “I am not only here to contribute to an organization that has built a history of winning, I am here to win it all and bring the wonderful people of Memphis their first championship parade down Beale Street.”
Fizdale is certainly not exaggerating when he talks about working with some of the greatest coaches and players in his profession. The bulk of his coaching career has come as a member of the Miami Heat’s coaching staff.
Starting with the 2008-09 season and working up until the conclusion of last year, Fizdale helped bring two championships to Miami while sitting on the same bench as Spoelstra.
Among the players he coached during that time were LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Shawn Marion, Jermaine O’Neal, and Amar’e Stoudemire, a group that has combined for 57 All-Star Game appearances.
The entire time he was a Heat employee also coincided with legendary NBA figure Pat Riley’s reign as team president.
Given the fact that this is his first head coaching job, it can be expected that Fizdale carries some uncertainty. However, in an interview with David Aldridge of NBA.com, he revealed that everything was truly new to him.
“I had never interviewed [for a head coaching position] before,” Fizdale said. “This time was really my first time. Honestly, I didn’t know what to prepare for. I just wanted to be solid in what I knew and be able to connect what I knew with their organization. That’s what I tried to do more than anything else. I took the culture, the system, my personality, and I looked at their team and what they’re about to go through with free agency, and I attacked it from that standpoint.”
There were even connections from his college years to the day he was interviewed for Memphis’ head coaching job. Not only was his preparation for the moment akin to a last minute cram session for an exam, but one of his competitors for the job was one of his old players at USD.
“[The Grizzlies] told me after [the Heat] lost to Toronto [in the 2016 NBA Playoffs], they were, like, we want to bring you in right away,” Fizdale said. “I basically pulled a college night, did an all-nighter with [Erik Spoelstra] and a couple of guys from the Heat, video guys. We went in and prepared like it was a playoff game. I guess I was speaking the language they wanted to hear.”
The familiar face that interviewed for the same job belonged to James Borrego, a forward for the Toreros from 1999-2001. Borrego has been an assistant coach in the NBA since 2003 and even had a stint as the Orlando Magic’s interim head coach in 2015.
The two have a strong bond that goes back to Borrego’s college days, when Fizdale was still a coach at Alcala Park.
“The first call I made after I got the job was to [Borrego],” Fizdale said. “No matter what in my lifetime, I’m going to, in every way I can, I’m going to look out for him and his family, because that’s what they are to me. That part was hard for me because I kind of held back his dream a little bit. But that’s why I had to make sure, when I got off the plane and found out that it was done, he was my first phone call. He’s like a little brother to me. I coached him in college.”
For the 42-year-old Fizdale, his attention now turns toward his new job as the head coach of one of the NBA’s most consistent teams. The Grizzlies have made the playoffs in each of the last six seasons, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks for longest streak in the league.
The core of the team’s recent success is still intact, as point guard Mike Conley, center Marc Gasol, and forward Zach Randolph are still part of the roster. Offseason acquisition Chandler Parsons brings some much needed three point shooting to a team that lacked it last season.
Young players JaMychal Green and Jordan Adams could stand to learn a lot from veterans Vince Carter and Tony Allen.
Of course, winning in the NBA is no easy task. The Western Conference is notoriously top heavy with a softening underbelly in the middle of the standings.
Upstart teams including the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves will be gunning for the postseason, attempting to knock the Grizzlies out of one of the eight coveted playoff spots. If the Grizzlies can make this the seventh straight year of postseason basketball in Memphis, it will be thanks in some part to David Fizdale.