SACRAMENTO - The call came in at 8:30 am on Saturday morning. Dave Joerger was dropping his daughters off at a track meet. He had just headed back out to the car to grab an ice chest when the Grizzlies informed him he had been fired.
A phone call from agent Warren LeGarie to Kings vice president of basketball operations, Vlade Divac set the wheels in motion.
By Sunday afternoon, Joerger and his family were already in Sacramento meeting with his eventual new bosses. He had a new contract in hand on Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday morning, he was in front of a crowded room of media members as the new head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
“I’m very honored, very humbled to be in this situation and this is a great situation,” Joerger said Tuesday morning at the press conference announcing his official hiring. “It’s on the rise. All of the exciting things that are happening here, I’m excited to be a part of it.”
These things usually take more time than 72 hours from start to finish. In fact, the Kings coaching search was already three weeks old before Joerger got his pink slip from the Grizzlies. But when the right man came available, Divac was poised to strike.
“It was a long process, but I expected it to be a long process,” Divac said of his first coaching hire. “I didn’t want to make a decision over night and we tried to do the right thing.”
This is the first official coaching hire for Divac, who had inherited George Karl as his coach when he assumed control of the Kings front office last summer. According to Divac, owner Vivek Ranadivé gave him full control over the hiring process.
“He’s really trusting me,” Divac said of Ranadivé. “He’s given me time to do the process the right way. When he called and asked me if I’m happy with the decision, I said absolutely, I’m thrilled. He said, ‘I’m happy, too.’”
The right thing included private jets and an aggressive approach to landing one of the game’s best young minds. Joerger, 42, posted a 147-99 record over three seasons in Memphis. His tenure included three playoff appearances as well, something the Kings haven’t accomplished in a decade.
With job openings in Houston, Indiana and possibly even New York, why did Joerger go straight for the Kings job without even taking a meeting with others?
“I think, first of all, the team’s on the rise,” Joerger said. “There’s still some heavy lifting to do, but some of the heavy lifting has been done. This is not a ‘blow up, let’s start over’ kind of situation. We’re on the road to recovery. Secondly, I love the people that we’re working with. Third, look at the arena and everything that’s going on downtown.”
Joerger is known as a players coach from his time with the Grizzlies. During his final season, he ran a 42-40 record despite losing half of his rotation to either trade or injury. He finished the season having played a total of 28 different players, including eight different additions via 10-day contract.
Following his first round loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Joerger showed a different side than most have seen. He is a confident guy. He even borders on cocky at certain times. But when his season was over, he was emotional in front of a national television audience.
“Those guys fought and I fought for them,” Joerger said of his press conference following Memphis’ exit from the playoffs.
Known for managing large personalities, Joerger’s final stint in Memphis may have been his greatest coaching effort. Not only did he have a never ending influx of new faces, but some of roster were known around the league for their behavior as much as their play.
Matt Barnes, Chris Anderson, Lance Stephenson and P.J. Hairston all finished the season on the Grizzlies roster. As did veteran big man Zach Randolph, who was a handful as a younger player. Joerger will need to bring his chemistry set with him when he enters the room in Sacramento if he hopes of building a strong culture.
“There’s a certain way that we expect people to behave and perform - there is what we will not allow and what we will not tolerate and what we expect,” Joerger said. “You better be in there in the middle. We’re committed to doing this the right way. We’ll go in a different direction.”
Divac quickly added his two cents on the matter, jumping in with a bit of humor to lighten the room.
“In California they have that food chain - In-and-Out,” the 7-footer said with a smile. “We have ‘in or out.’”
Lurking in the back of the room was All-Star big DeMarcus Cousins who snuck in to watch yet another Kings coach take the reigns. Since joining the Kings as a 19-year-old rookie in 2010, this is Cousins’ sixth head coach.
While he wasn’t available to give comment, his mere appearance at the press conference spoke volumes. Reaching out and building a relationship with Cousins has to be priority No. 1 for Joerger.
Divac was asked repeatedly about how he thought Cousins and Joerger would fit together and the Kings GM was pretty clear with his opinion.
“I heard you guys, a lot of questions was regarding DeMarcus,” Divac said. “No doubt he’s going to be on the same page. He’s our leader and our franchise player. Like I said, players, coach, front office - everybody’s has to be on the same page.”
When pressed further about whether Cousins would be traded or stick around for another tour of duty in Sacramento, Divac dodged the question a bit before making a more definitive statement.
“That’s a question (like) asking me if I’m going to be here for the next 50 years - I don’t know,” Divac said. “He’s not going to be traded if you’re asking me this year - for sure.”
As for Joerger, he’s hoping to avoid the pitfalls that have toppled those before him. He’s a bright basketball mind who the Kings are banking on to carry them into a new arena in the fall.
“It’s a good fit for all the way around,” Joerger said. “There’s some excitement with the arena. You’ve got some talented pieces, you’ve got a cool front office of guys that care about this community.”
Divac, Joerger and the rest of the Kings front office staff left following the press conference to take part in the NBA Draft Combine, which begins Wednesday in Chicago. The Kings have made very solid additions to both the front office and coaching staff just in time for draft season.