Feistiness replaces calm at helm of the Grizzlies (Toronto Star)

Feistiness replaces calm at helm of the Grizzlies

Toronto Star, Spirit of the West column, January 28, 1997

VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Grizzlies have been around for what seems like longer than 1 ½ years. But it wasn’t until Friday afternoon that it really felt like the team was in the big leagues.

It took the firing of the only head coach in franchise history to achieve this feeling of belonging, but that’s what professional sports is all about, isn’t it?

Gone is Brian Winters, the soft-spoken former all-star who, it is said, couldn’t reach his players. Whether anyone can is now up to Stu Jackson, who immediately gives street credibility to the young cubs, having once coached the New York Knickerbockers. So what if his former players revolted? Some say his new ones are revolting, too, in their own sweet way.

Jackson adds the title of head coach to his already full résumé. There is some concern coaching will take away from his duties of president and general manager. Whether he will have time to continue not trading and not signing anyone remains to be seen. (They don’t call him Inaction Jackson for nothing. Okay, they don't call him that at all. But they might unless he starts bringing in players or getting the ones he has to win more than they have been.)

What Jackson offers is a feistiness heretofore unseen in these parts. And that is not, in and of itself, a good or bad thing. It is just the way he is.

“I feel very strongly that when you coach and you make a decision to lead, you have to be yourself,” he said following his first game Saturday, an 83-82 home loss to the Denver Nuggets. “That’s who I am. I hope they respond to it.”

Which is not to say quiet is wrong. Winters, too, was who he was.

Blue Edwards is largely held to be the catalyst in the firing of Winters, a charge he denies.

“The only thing I think was Brian’s fault,” he says, “was that he gave us probably too much respect. Brian would have been an excellent coach for a veteran team with guys that really want to play. With this team, maybe he wasn’t the right coach.”

For now, the game plan Winters instituted will be run – the only difference being who gets to run it. In his first game, Jackson gave considerable time to second-year guard Lawrence Moten, who had been in Winters’ doghouse since this team was born.

But Moten respected the job Winters did.

“A lot of people probably think I didn’t like him or he didn’t like me,” he says. “I got along with Brian. Brian was a very nice person. I don’t have any bad memories of him at all. I thought he was a good coach. There was not one point that I can say we didn’t get along at all. He was a very good man.”

Now all eyes will be on Jackson. One of his former players in New York describes him as energetic and smart.

“Stu’s gonna do a great job,” says Mark Jackson. “I think the main thing is he’s going to have those guys working.”

Stu Jackson hopes so, but concedes there’s only so much he can do.

“It’s not my basketball team. It’s their team,” he says. “And it’s really their decision to make who they want to be. We can be the type of team we were (against Denver), or we can be the type of team that wilts. Tonight, they decided they didn’t want to wilt. If we can continue that mentality with a fresh start, we’ll be okay.”

A fresh start and the team has finally arrived. Look out world, here come the Grizzlies.

Spirit of the West will appear regularly throughout the NBA season.