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(Photo: Spruce Derden, USA TODAY Sports)

Came out swinging. Shots fired. Put everyone on blast.

That’s the general consensus of what Lionel Hollins did when he went on Sports 56 with Peter Edmiston this morning. (Listen to the interview in its entirety here — it’s well worth your time.) In typical Hollins’ fashion, he alternated between being endearing and coming across as caustic, if not outright defensive. It made my Twitter feed look like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had taken over, including my own tweets.

Hollins seemed very genuine in his desire to stay in Memphis with the Grizzlies and to continue what he started four and a half years ago. He spoke about not having any friction with his players, although he admitted that they do have confrontations, as should be expected between a coach and his roster. He also dismissed the importance of the reported incident between himself and John Hollinger, saying that they laughed about it after the fact. He went so far as to say that he’d yell at President Obama if he walked onto the practice court and attempted to converse with a player. Funny, and also probably accurate. During these statements, I said on Twitter that if Hollins was like this more often, then nobody would ever want him to leave. He was very engaging, and it made you want to like him (or like him even more if you were already in his camp).

Then…the mood changed. It started with Hollins going on the offensive against local radio host Chris Vernon (92.9 ESPN) and local writer Chris Herrington (Memphis Flyer) regarding comments they have made about Hollins and his lead assistant, Dave Joerger. As I detailed yesterday, there are many that believe that Joerger is the front office’s choice to be the next head coach, although they certainly seem willing to bring Hollins back, as well.

After Hollins made several comments about Vernon’s statements on players Hollins allegedly wants gone (Tony Allen, Zach Randolph), players he doesn’t seem to appreciate (Ed Davis reportedly being asked to play in Summer League), and all but calling him a mouthpiece for the front office, he goes on to talk about Joerger specifically. While he was complimentary at times, it was one specific statement that stuck with most listeners. In discussing the team’s success, Hollins was incredulous that he wasn’t being given more credit for it, and pointed to the team’s top-tier ranking on defense as one of those areas. After acknowledging that Joerger has headed up the defense the last few seasons, he said that he wasn’t a defensive coach until Hollins named him to that position.

You hear that sound? That’s the bus that Hollins is now boarding to leave town…after he threw all of those people under it.


Hopefully, the bus will cross that bridge that Hollins set afire before it’s completely incinerated.

Hollins started off by making the Grizzlies front office seem very cold and calculating, engendering plenty of support for people who want to see him return. The lasting impression, though, is of a guy who is inflexible and demands to do things his way.

This is where the problem lies — and we discussed it yesterday: philosophical differences. Hollins wants to do things his way; the front office has a different methodology in mind. Guess what? The front office hires and fires coaches, and by all accounts, have a guy in the wings in Dave Joerger that is on board with their ideology.

Back in February, Chip Crain wrote an article comparing the dynamic between the new front office and Lionel Hollins as being similar to the plot of Moneyball. It seems prophetic now, as that is exactly what has happened. In the book/movie, Art Howe was a successful manager who got the Oakland A’s to the playoffs — but he refused to accept that the new way of doing things involved more stats and less “eyes on” analysis. So, Howe was shown the door when his contract was up. Hollins’ own insistence on bucking the trend towards advanced stats already had him at odds with Levien and Hollinger. His comments today made it virtually impossible for the team to both bring him back and keep Joerger. Based on what I’m hearing, if forced to choose, the Grizzlies will take their chances with Joerger.

Ok, most of that was factual and objective. Here’s my opinion on what should happen going forward.

The team cannot have Hollins and Joerger coexist any longer. It’s just not possible. Hollins shouldn’t be expected to work with Joerger as his ready replacement, and Joerger cannot be asked to be put in such an awkward situation either.

I appreciate what Hollins has done for this team, this organization. He came in, proved that he was a solid head coach, and changed the tenor of the squad. Grit and Grind is as much about Hollins as any of the players. With that being said, this decision is not about what Hollins has done — it’s about what he will and can do in the future. Herrington was one of the first to make the proclamation that this decision is now about the next 3-5 years, not just next year — and it’s absolutely, 100% true. The front office wants someone who is on the same page as they are. Hollins not only isn’t on the same page — he might not even be reading the same book. That, above all else, is why Levien and Co. are justified in looking elsewhere, despite Hollins’ unprecedented success.

There are other teams who have made moves like this and reaped the benefits. Two years after leading the Spurs to an NBA-best 62 wins, Bob Hill was fired and replaced by Gregg Popovich — and we know how that turned out. The Pistons fired Rick Carlisle after back-to-back 50 win seasons, hired Larry Brown, and won a title. The Mavericks fired Avery Johnson a year after he led the team to the Finals, hired Rick Carlisle, and won a title. Way back when, an unknown assistant who had bounced around the minor leagues before finding a home on Chicago’s staff was elevated to replace Doug Collins when the Bulls failed to advance in the playoffs yet again. That coach was Phil Jackson.

I’m not saying that Dave Joerger is a sure-fire, no-doubt,  superstar coach. However, I do think his career accomplishments (5 titles in 7 seasons as a minor league head coach) speak for themselves. I know that the front office is very high on him, as are many other people around the league. Would it have been nice if this transition could have occurred in a different manner? Of course. But, this is how it has played out, so there’s no use crying over spilled milk. The team cannot keep both men, so they have to pick between them. Their choice appears to be Joerger, and I’m ok with that.

That doesn’t diminish what Hollins did while he was here, nor is it a referendum on his ability to coach. He’s clearly a good coach who was very instrumental in the team’s success the last three seasons. But — that doesn’t mean that he is the right guy to lead the team going forward. I think Joerger is better suited to work with the new front office and to coach this team as it is likely to be assembled by that front office. I could be wrong. That’s always a distinct possibility. But, I feel confident that is what will happen in the near future. Time will tell.

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6 Responses to Taking Sides

  1. Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

    I listened to the podcast earlier myself, and frankly, it confused me as to what the “philosophical differences” could be. My suspicion was that simply put, the front office wanted to tell Lionel who to play and when, specifically, Ed Davis. But now that Hollins went on the air and said that conversations like that NEVER happened, I’m confused.

    There are probably a couple of other dynamics at work here as well . . .

    Young Bosses/Older Employee. Lionel Hollins (60) was literally playing pro ball while Levien (42) and Hollinger (42) were in diapers, and before Pera (35) was a twinkle in his dad’s eye.

    Not to say that he bristles at being given orders by guys who could’ve been classmates with his children — but I have to imagine he feels (justifiably — and maybe not even consciously) that he knows WAAAAAY more about NBA basketball than any of his current bosses. Consequently, it’s reasonable to see how the front office would feel more in line with a younger coach, like Joerger.

    But I don’t think it’s automatic that we’re looking at a one or the other situation. Nor do I think that Hollins has blown up a bridge in Memphis. What’s reported in media often doesn’t match what’s really going on behind closed doors.

    For instance, nobody in the Grizzlies Front Office has really said much of anything about Dave Joerger, let alone that he’s a frontrunner for the job. That is a presumption that the media has cooked up, and has been repeated so much that it’s being talked about like it’s fact.

    I still think these are like Dwayne and Whitley from A Different World — everyone knows they belong together, but there’s so much drama in the will-they-or-won’t-they.

  2. GrizzFan2005No Gravatar says:

    I’m confused as to why everyone thinks that Lionel can’t coach a roster constructed differently than the current one. He’s proven that he can coach period. From his interview it sounds that it doesn’t matter how players get here, just as long as they can play. I don’t understand what they want from him…to play the players they choose. Then why don’t they coach the team. simple solution.

  3. chriskf1No Gravatar says:

    Chip made the prescient analogy to Moneyball,

    I’ve got another one… Office Space. The new VP (Levien) brings in 2 consultants (Hollinger and Lash) to downsize the existing employees through a series of demeaning, belittling moves. Hollins –in the role of the main character, Peter — took the bait (repeatedly) doing everything but park in Levien’s reserved parking spot. Wallace, went the route of Milton; suffering the repeated humilation (like being forced to be a mouthpiece for unpopular decisions he wasn’t part of making). The movie ends with the company literally going up in flames, Peter (Hollins) in a different job he loves, and Milton sitting on a pile of cash on a beach in Mexico (or is it a GM’s chair in Sacramento? I forget).

    It didn’t turn out like the company wanted, but Peter (Hollins) and Milton (Wallace) had their fates decided the day the consultants were hired, not based on what they’ve done or not done.

  4. gldfldNo Gravatar says:

    So far the current management is batting a thousand, I would think they deserve some credit for what they’ve done thus far and some confidence in their judgement going forward.

    • chriskf1No Gravatar says:

      A 1st round draft pick (nevermind Speights, Ellington) for Jon Leuer to get under a cap that trading Rudy Gay would get you under anyway is NOT batting 1.000.

      • gldfldNo Gravatar says:

        I think the jury is still out on Jon Leuer. I’ve always believed that the character of the front office determines the ultimate success of any organization, especially sports teams. Robert is so low key, he’s often underestimated by those unfamiliar, but I can tell you he is almost always the smartest guy in the room, he does not suffer fools gladly, and always surrounds himself with the smartest, most talented people, even if he has to wait till they become available. There are never any “yes men” on his management team. I believe Memphis fans will eventually realize they may have the best front office in the NBA.

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