David Fizdale has already watched replays of too many Grizzlies games from this past season to count.
He’s contacted all but two players on the roster, and will soon fly to see each of them in person. The Grizzlies’ new head coach will be heavily involved in the June 23 NBA draft and is passionate about coaching the Grizzlies’ Las Vegas Summer League team next month.
The Griz formally introduced Fizdale Tuesday, nearly three weeks after abruptly firing Dave Joerger. An exhaustive coaching search turned into a sudden whirlwind for the first-time NBA head coach.
Fizdale hit all the right notes during a press conference in FedExForum. He praised the team’s veteran core, promised to improve the Grizzlies’ offense while keeping their grit-and-grind mentality and pledged to win a championship in Memphis.
“I came here to win and I came here to be a big part of this community,” Fizdale said. “The goal is to win a title. No doubt about it. With the pieces that we have and the pieces we’re going to put together and us working together, I see no reason why we won’t have an opportunity to take that run.”
With his mother, wife and son sitting in the front row, Fizdale, 41, acknowledged that the Grizzlies piqued his interest because of their chance to win now. He had other opportunities to pursue head coaching jobs over 13 years as an assistant. But Fizdale didn’t want to take over a team of youngsters. He wants to win now, having helped build the Miami Heat into a championship squad as an assistant under Erik Spoelstra over the past eight seasons.
Judging by Tuesday, he’ll offer a mixture of Joerger’s X’s and O’s ability and former Griz coach Lionel Hollins’ forceful nature. Fizdale said he didn’t leave the sunshine and beaches of Miami to come to Memphis and lose.
“I’m going to attack this job,” said Fizdale, who is revered as a strong communicator on and off the court.
Fizdale earned a second interview after the Griz initially pursued ex-Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel. When Vogel decided to take the Orlando Magic job, the Griz focused mainly on veteran assistants. Fizdale eventually met with team owner Robert Pera in San Jose, California, and the deal was done.
Griz general manager Chris Wallace made the recommendation after interviewing candidates over 19 days.
“David brings a championship vision with a detailed plan of how to get the Grizzlies to the next level,” Wallace said. “Most importantly, he is a high-character individual who will embrace the greater Memphis community. He is a uniquely qualified coach who can lead our team now, tomorrow and deep into the future.”
Fizdale emphasized that he doesn’t want to let go of the Grizzlies’ grit-and-grind mantra.
“I know people don’t view those Miami teams that way but that’s what we were,” Fizdale said. “That was our motto — Grind ’em. Every coach here has sustained that identity and it’s a reflection of the people here. I’m not going to lose that. I’m bringing that with me: defensive-minded and tough.”
Fizdale, though, didn’t shy away from a desire to improve the Grizzlies’ offense in terms of creating more space and pace.
“They already have some ingredients in place to have a running team, a team that can at least play with a higher pace,” Fizdale said. “I don’t envision this team as Golden State by any means from that standpoint of just getting up and down the court, going through a ton of threes, things like that. But when you have a team that has defensive habits like the Memphis Grizzlies already have — that has been built by all the coaches that have come through here, that kind of toughness and the ability to rebound the ball defensively like that — (and) you put Tony Allen in that mix as a disruptive defender, Mike Conley as a steals guy, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be getting that ball off the glass or getting deflections and steals and getting up the court a lot faster.”
Fizdale said he hasn’t hired assistant coaches yet but promised to put together “a championship staff” and put people around him to make up for his weaknesses.
Above all, the longtime assistant whose basketball playing days ended with four-year career at the University of San Diego, with a desire to be a high school head coach, is confident and determined as a first-time NBA head coach.
“Once I hit a certain point, the itch started getting there. I was waiting for that right opportunity to hit,” Fizdale said. “A few years ago, when we won a couple of titles (in Miami), I didn’t have that itch. I wanted to see that team through. How many opportunities do you have to take a run at multiple titles? I don’t care what spot you’re in. … I wasn’t jumping ship too early. I wanted to see how many rings I could rack up.
“There was a lot of stuff I got to experience as a top assistant that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had jumped right into (head coaching). So I feel very confident that I’m ready for this. Whatever I’m weak at, I’m going to hire a guy that is strong at it and can help me because I’m willing to be uncomfortable and willing to grow and listen.”