San Antonio Spurs History: Gregg Popovich hires himself as head coach
By Dylan Carter
Only one man could fire someone else just to hire himself as the replacement and that’s San Antonio Spurs leader Gregg Popovich.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane: After a disappointing 1987-88 season, the San Antonio Spurs fired their entire coaching staff including an unsuspecting rising star in Gregg Popovich. He had been recruited by a good friend and mentor in Larry Brown, who was the head coach for the Spurs at the time. After a brief stint with the Golden State Warriors, Popovich was re-hired by San Antonio once Peter Holt bought the team — This time as General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations.
Popovich held that role until a terrible start to the 1996-97 season in which star center David Robinson got injured and the team began 3-15 without him. His hand was forced as Popovich fired head coach Bob Hill only to name himself as the leader of this struggling team. San Antonio won just 17 games that season, leading to the No. 1 pick — A college star named Tim Duncan.
In just his first full season as a head coach, Popovich brought the dynamic duo of Robinson and Duncan to the limelight. His team won 56 games that season and San Antonio claimed its first-ever NBA championship with their franchise star emerging on the national stage. This was the vindication that Popovich deserved after all of his years of service for the River City’s franchise.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s streak of 22 straight seasons in the Playoffs is the longest streak by any head coach/manager in U.S Sports History (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB).
— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) August 13, 2020
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San Antonio wasn’t always great to Popovich, which led to his first departure with the organization. However, Pop saw something special brewing in San Antonio with his return and devised a masterful plan to make it all work. Even when his star player went down, Popovich groomed the remaining players to the big moment that was to come. All the while, Popovich made headway toward drafting a franchise-altering player, turning a disappointment of a season into the greatest dynasty in the modern era of professional sports.
Popovich is largely responsible for getting Robinson his championship rings and building around Duncan for nearly 20 seasons. There is no Big Three without Popovich’s guidance and understanding of both basketball and people in general. He’s a man with a good heart and a thoughtful demeanor that knows how to lead.
Firing a coach and replacing him with yourself is not something that would fly in most situations. From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem a bit shady or careless. However, Popovich knew that he was the man for the job after years of experience and a knack for player development. He didn’t get along with everyone along the way, but the vast majority of players and personnel that cross his path rave about who he is as a person and his approach to the job.
Maybe Bob Hill had to be the sacrificial lamb, but look at what that one decision did for the Spurs franchise and in turn, the city of San Antonio as a whole.