Memphis, Tenn. — Tony Barone Sr. was on his way to scout a college basketball game when Jerry West called and asked him to take over as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.
His plane rerouted immediately.
"Jerry asked me to do it, and I'm going to do it," Barone said Friday after his first practice.
West, the Grizzlies' president of basketball operations, fired Mike Fratello on Thursday and then picked his director of personnel to take over a team with the NBA's worst record (6-24).
Barone coached Texas A&M and Creighton in college, but has only been an assistant in the NBA.
"Tony, if you're around him, is one of the most infectious guys in the world, and don't think he doesn't have an extensive basketball background," West said at a news conference.
Barone will return to his old job at the end of the season, and West said the new coach will then know even more about what the team needs next summer.
West defended his friend Fratello for coaching a team that has struggled with injuries, questions about a proposed sale, new owners, and what he called a "brutal" schedule. But he knew after watching the Grizzlies in a 112-96 loss Wednesday night to Milwaukee that a change was needed.
"Our players simply had lost confidence," West said, adding that he expects players to be able to look in the mirror each night and know they played their best.
West said the team needed a change in personality, and he expects Barone to employ a much more aggressive and simpler style.
"It was a trust factor, and I don't think there's any question there was a lot of unrest in our locker room," he said.
The team also drafted Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry, then traded for Alexander Johnson on draft day as the first steps toward a younger, cheaper team that can be built to win playoff games.