Former UNLV Men’s basketball assistant Tim Grgurich has seen it all from the sidelines. An NCAA national championship. An NBA title. Now, the well-liked coach is being honored for his contributions as an assistant after being named the 2018 Tex Winter Assistant Coach Lifetime Impact Award winner by the National Basketball Coaches Association Tuesday morning.
For a man who has worked with generational talent and Hall of Fame athletes, being the honoree is a complete reversal. Usually he is the one cheering from behind the curtain, but now — deservingly so — the rest of the basketball world can applaud Grgurich for the dedication and impact he’s made on the game itself.
“Simply put, Tim Grgurich is the godfather of modern player development,” said Dallas Mavericks Head Coach and National Basketball Coaches Association President Rick Carlisle. “Not since the great Pete Newell has there been anyone who has impacted modern NBA teaching techniques and procedures the way our beloved ‘Grg’ has.
“He has positively impacted the lives and careers of hundreds of NBA players and coaches since joining the NBA with the Seattle Supersonics in the early 90s. Congrats to Coach ‘Grg’ on this prestigious and well-deserved recognition.”
Grgurich, in typical fashion, was modest in his response.
“I am humbled by this recognition,” he said. “I always felt Tex Winter was the gold standard for all coaches. I am pleased to accept this award in honor of his great legacy.”
As UNLV’s top assistant, Grgurich helped fine-tune the stifling amoeba defense that helped build arguably the greatest college basketball team in NCAA history in 1990-91. His work with UNLV greats Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony helped make them the players they became as NBA stars. Vegas will never forget what Grgurich brought to the city and the program.
When the former UNLV Men’s basketball head coach, the late-Jerry Tarkanian, was run out of town by a combination of the NCAA powers-that-be and UNLV’s own administration, and — after UNLV fired Tark’s replacement Rollie Massamino days before the first official practice — Grgurich was tapped as UNLV’s new head coach in October of 1994. The whole ordeal was something out of a Hollywood film.
Many within the Runnin’ Rebels family were ecstatic.
But, with the weight of a continually unsupportive UNLV administration and a slow start, Grgurich was hospitalized with symptoms of exhaustion before stepping down from the post after seven games.
“You know nobody works harder than Tim and nobody gives more of himself than Tim,” Tarkanian said at the time. “I just think that he just came here with all of the inner frustrations that he had and all of the feelings that he had inside him. It was very, very difficult to overcome.”
Grgurich began his NBA career as an assistant coach with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1991, and, after his short stint as UNLV’s head coach, he returned to help guide the SuperSonics to two Western Conference Finals and a trip to the NBA Finals in 1996.
He scored his first NBA championship ring in 2010-11 as an assistant coach with the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and went to the Western Conference Finals with the Portland Trail Blazers twice and the Denver Nuggets. Over the course of his highly successful NBA coaching career, his teams reached the playoffs 23 times, winning seven division titles.
Needless to say, the man has a way with players — especially on the defensive side of the floor.
“Assistant Coaches often operate behind the scenes and may not receive public recognition for their team’s success,”National Basketball Coaches Association Executive Director David S. Fogel said. “However, if you ask any Head Coach, they would say that their team could not operate without the hard work of these men and women.
“Coach Grgurich certainly exemplified these values on and off the court, and his tireless work ethic led to successful seasons in each of his coaching stops.”
The man still finds his way back to the Las Vegas community every year for his free, highly-regarded offseason player development camp. While the camp is generally for rookies and second-year players, the well-respected coach opens it up to veterans and coaches as well.
Many don’t realize Grgurich’s fate was often tied to Tark’s, even so far as — along with Tarkanian — filing a lawsuit against UNLV after the school’s treatment of the staff. He eventually forgave the school, and supported other later UNLV coaches, especially former head coach Dave Rice, during their years at the helm.
When one looks back on UNLV’s rich history, Grgurich’s 11 years with the Rebels proved to be its “golden years” in program history. His dedication to defense, and to the young men he mentored far exceeds most head coaches in UNLV lore, let alone assistants.
Truthfully, there is no better assistant in UNLV history — but don’t expect ‘Grg’ to tell you that. He’ll just smile and point out your footwork is a tad slow. And, why wouldn’t he? He’s been coaching this game this for 54 years of his life. Without a doubt, this award was a long time coming.