The last time Dave Joerger jumped from assistant to head coach, he made sure the toughest and biggest player on the roster had his back.
Now that he's made the transition again, this time in the NBA, Joerger insists he hasn't singled out any specific player for support. He's been around the Memphis Grizzlies long enough that he feels very comfortable changing seats.
"We've got a group of professionals," Joerger said. "I think they believe in me. I know I believe in them. They believe in each other."
Joerger, 39, has the unenviable challenge of taking over a franchise coming off its best season ever with a trip to its first Western Conference finals. The Grizzlies gambled turning the team over to Joerger after his six seasons on the bench, the past four under Lionel Hollins, whose contract was not renewed this summer.
Under Hollins, the Grizzlies did better each season than the year before with a franchise-best 56-26 last season. Now expectations are even higher despite Memphis being swept by the Spurs in the Western finals, cranking up the pressure on the rookie head coach with opening night Wednesday in San Antonio.
"My job is just to put them in a position to have a chance to be successful, and that's what I'm going to try to do," Joerger said.
Joerger certainly has his own track record of success, even if it's all in the minor leagues.
The Minnesota native and former point guard at Staples High School and Moorhead State won five championships starting with an International Basketball Association title in 2000-01 after being promoted from head coach with the Dakota Wizards, three in the Continental Basketball Association and the last in the NBA Developmental League with the Wizards again in 2007.
The Grizzlies picked Joerger over experienced head coaches like George Karl to replace Hollins, and Memphis chief executive officer Jason Levien said Joerger's record was just part of what team officials liked in the coach.
"Two is his knowledge of the core of this team, the relationships he's already built and the track record he established here with the Grizzlies as an assistant coach," Levien said. "And three, his positive energy, his enthusiasm, which is contagious. I think he's going to build a confidence in these players, and that's going to help us this season."