Spurs’ Popovich the new model in coaching longevity


Feb 17

With Jerry Sloan’s unexpected and abrupt resignation last week, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich became the longest tenured coach with the same team in the NBA. In the four major sports—MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL—he trails only Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals in that category.

On Thursday, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he respects Popovich, who is in his 15th season as the Spurs’ head coach, first and foremost for his consistency. Popovich has compiled a regular season record of 782-371 (.678) and led San Antonio to four NBA Championships (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007).

“The thing about Pop is he’s the same today as he was as an assistant coach 20 years ago,” remarked Thibodeau. “He’s had great success and is a great coach who has kept it at a high level for a very long time while remaining very humble. I have the utmost respect for him.

“To me, he’s the new Jerry Sloan,” added Thibodeau. “Every time you play their team, you know what’s coming. They’re great at executing and they don’t beat themselves. They play hard, smart and tough, and I think that’s a reflection on him.”

Popovich, on the other hand, doesn’t exactly embrace the Sloan comparisons, though he admits they are flattering.

“I would never put myself in Jerry Sloan’s category,” said Popovich. “I used to come home on leave [from the Air Force] and eat fried mushrooms and drink Stroh’s while I watched him beat [up] on people on TV. He’s more an idol to me than anything else.”

As for the Bulls, who entering their game against the Spurs boasted a 24-4 record at home and the third best record in the Eastern Conference, Popovich isn’t surprised about the success the team and their coach have enjoyed.

“He’s doing exactly what any of us would have anticipated,” said Popovich of Thibodeau. “He knows what he’s doing. If he’s not the best, he’s one of the best. His understanding of defense and his ability to teach it and make people accountable is not a surprise to any of us who have been around him.”

Unlike several coaches in the NBA, especially some of the newer coaches to be hired, Popovich and Thibodeau share a common bond—neither played professionally.

“You’ve got to root for those guys who didn’t play in the league,” laughed Popovich.

Bulls vs. Spurs season notes

Chicago swept last year’s season series with San Antonio for the first time since 1997-98 (2-0) … the Bulls are 3-7 in their last 10 games versus the Spurs … Chicago is 27-46 (.370) all time against San Antonio, including 18-19 in the Windy City … prior to last year’s 98-93 win in San Antonio, Chicago’s last road win versus the Spurs was Nov. 25, 2005 … in two games last season against the Spurs, Derrick Rose averaged 20.0 ppg, 6.5 apg and 5.0 rpg in 34.0 mpg … Tim Duncan led the Spurs in two games versus the Bulls last year with 21.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 3.00 bpg … the Bulls have not won three straight over the Spurs since they ran off six straight wins from 1995-96 to 1997-98 (Chicago swept the season series three straight seasons) … Bulls guard Keith Bogans appeared in 79 games last year for San Antonio (50 starts) and averaged 4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg and 1.2 apg in 19.7 mpg (Bogans also played in eight playoff games with the Spurs).

Audio—Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s pregame comments (02.17.11):

Audio—Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s pregame comments (02.17.11):

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