Grizzlies fire Fratello after disastrous 6-24 start

Updated: December 29, 2006, 1:42 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Memphis Grizzlies fired coach Mike Fratello on Thursday after an NBA-worst 6-24 start.

The Grizzlies' career winningest coach, Fratello had a 95-83 record and had guided Memphis to consecutive playoff appearances. Tony Barone Sr., the Grizzlies' director of player personnel, was selected to be the interim coach.

Mike Fratello
AP Photo/Lance MurpheyMike Fratello (left) had a tough assignment when his big man, Pau Gasol, missed the beginning of the season.

Fratello started the season without All-Star center Pau Gasol, who broke his foot this summer in the world championships and missed the first 22 games.

"Unfortunately, this season has been one of disarray starting this past summer," Fratello said in a statement.

Jerry West, Grizzlies president of basketball operations, announced the move, calling Fratello a great coach and friend.

"We just felt it was time to make a change and move in a different direction based on our record and future goals. We wish Mike the best in his future endeavors," West said in a statement.

The change was made after the Grizzlies' 112-96 home loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday night, the fifth straight defeat and 11th in 12 games for Memphis.

"In your own homecourt, you're getting booed and yelled at from your own fans," Gasol said after the loss. "It's just hard. There's too many defensive breakdowns right now, and too many easy layups right now. The whole thing is getting to our head, and it's affecting on every aspect of the game."

The Grizzlies started on a youth movement this offseason, drafting Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry for a more up-tempo pace. They traded veteran Shane Battier and let center Lorenzen Wright leave as a free agent.

But Fratello, who replaced Hubie Brown on Dec. 2, 2004, was criticized heavily for sticking with his deliberate style. He took the Grizzlies to the playoffs the past two seasons, but they were swept in the first round both times.

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"Tony is going to be our head coach," West told ESPN.com's Chad Ford. "He has a great familiarity with the players. He has a brilliant basketball mind. He has a great rapport individually with the team and he's a tough guy."

West said that the appointment would be on an interim basis until the ownership issue with the team is resolved. Owner Michael Heisley has turned in a cancellation notice for a proposed sale to a group led by Brian Davis and Christian Laettner. Nothing will be official either way until Jan. 15.

Barone, whose first game as head coach will be Saturday at home against Toronto, was an assistant coach for the Grizzlies under Brown from 2002 to 2004.

He has never been a head coach in the NBA, but he was head coach at Texas A&M from 1991 to 1998 and at Creighton from 1985 to 1991. The Chicago native played at Duke.

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The Grizzlies scheduled a news conference for Friday morning.

Fratello left his television career to take over the Grizzlies after Brown retired for health reasons. He had coached the Atlanta Hawks for eight seasons -- where he was the NBA coach of the year in 1986 -- and the Cleveland Cavaliers for six before going into broadcasting.

He ranked 19th on the NBA's career wins list and 21st in games coached when he joined the Grizzlies. On March 4, 2005, he became the 19th coach to win 600 games.

Memphis had lost 11 of 16 to start the 2004-05 season but finished Fratello's first season with 45 victories. He couldn't repeat that success this year.

"I am sorry I have not been able to find a way up to this point to turn things around, and I understand why a change needs to be made," Fratello said. "Things will get better with both an abundance of home games coming up and the eventual return of Lawrence Roberts and Kyle Lowry from their injuries."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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