One of my favorite stories in local Fargo-Moorhead sports has always been Chris Coste. He is the Fargo South guy who never lettered in athletics in high school, who played college baseball at Division III Concordia in Moorhead, who played for the independent Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks after being told that he probably wasn't good enough, who worked his way up through the organized professional baseball ranks ... to eventually win a World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies.
It is pretty tough to top that rags-to-riches, local-boy-does-good story.
But the story of Dave Joerger comes close.
Joerger played high school basketball in small-town Staples-Motley, Minn. He started his college career at Concordia in Moorhead, then transferred a few blocks to what was then called Moorhead State. His first official basketball job was a volunteer post with the very minor league (and long defunct) Fargo-Moorhead Beez of the International Basketball Assocation. He then worked his way through minor leagues like the IBA, Continental Basketball Association and National Basketball Development League in places like Bismarck, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D. He won several league championships at those stops.
The big break came six years ago. He was hired as an assistant coach with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. A couple of years ago he was promoted to top assistant.
Last week came the ultimate payoff. Small-town Dave Joerger, who didn't play professional basketball and didn't have a father or brother who was connected in the NBA, was named head coach of the Grizzlies.
Even after six years in the big leagues, Joerger still somewhat feels that way.
"All of the sudden you turn around and they offer you the head-coaching job. It's like, 'Whoa!'" Joerger said this week during on interview on the "Mike McFeely Show" on 790 KFGO. "I'm really, really excited and very humbled by the opportunity that somebody would ask me to lead their team. I want to live each day as a head coach not taking one of those days for granted because there are only 30 of these jobs."
Joerger played for the Dragons in the mid-1990s under Dave Schellhase. He was a point guard, the proverbial "coach on the floor," and spent much of his time setting up big-time scorers like Division II All-American Brett Beeson and Greg Duke.
Since he played for the legendary Lynn Peterson at Staples-Motley and was a hoops junkie from an early age, there was a pretty good chance Joerger was going to coach at some level. Perhaps high school. Maybe college. But did he ever picture himself coaching in the NBA? Was that the goal all along?
"No," Joerger said emphatically. "I remember sitting there asking Tom Billeter when he was at NDSU to maybe help me find a graduate assistant job and asking him what to do because I wanted to stay in the game and maybe coach.
"The year I volunteered for the Fargo-Moorhead Beez, I volunteered for Rory White who was the head coach. I helped out at practice where I could, delivered tickets and did whatever else I could do in the office. ... That's when the pro basketball bug really bit me. I kept coming back to that ... if there was a way for me to become involved with it," Joerger said.
"I loved the game. I loved the space. I loved the athleticism. I loved the length of the game. I loved that it was serious. There's a high risk involved in professional basketball. You lose, you get fired. I kind of liked that."
So Joerger stuck with it, getting his foot in the door as an assistant with the IBA's Dakota Wizards in Bismarck. And it has progressed from there.
From delivering tickets for the cut-rate Beez to being a head coach in the NBA.
That's a pretty good story.