Hey Gregg Popovich – You’re a Great Coach, But Stop Being an Ass

by Kent Sterling

UnknownGregg Popovich is an Indiana guy who coaches a style of basketball I love, so I should like him, and I would like to.  But he makes it impossible because he has no interest in treating people like human beings.

ESPN has worked hard during the NBA Finals trying to make him appear entertaining by building bits where his abrupt and incomplete answers are punchlines, but there is no denying that Popovich is an ass.

Let me define “ass”, so there is no confusion.  An “ass” is a person in power who treats people poorly because it’s unimportant to him to do otherwise.  Success is all that matters, and the people who cannot provide assistance toward achievement are discarded or ignored.

In Popovich’s world, people represent distraction.  Questions from the media are annoyances.  As a coach, he wins, so the media helps by turning his abrasive personality into entertaining bits.  The other option is to show Popovich as the boor that he is.

Popovich has been the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 16 full seasons and part of a 17th, has never lost one of four four NBA Finals series, never missed the playoffs in a full season, and has never failed to win 50 games while playing an 82-game schedule.  His overall record is 905-423, and he has been the NBA coach of the year twice.  That’s a track record that portrays Popovich as a great coach, and helps justify his behavior as part of that successful leadership recipe.

That success has been possible because the Spurs have always had great players, and that makes Popovich a great executive too, as he runs the franchise.

Popovich might be the best coach in the NBA, and that’s his job.  He’s not paid to be gracious and smile all the time, and that’s a good thing for him.  He would be a pauper.

There was a time when Bob Knight was celebrated for being cantankerous, and then when the wins came less frequently, the media couldn’t wait to help bring down the curtain on his career at Indiana.

Popovich appears to be less manic than Knight, and much less likely to throttle players by the throat, but by being a jerk – which he is in the halls of the Spurs offices as well as to the media, according to people who’ve worked there – he makes himself someone whose failure will please most fans outside of San Antonio.

I’m a little conflicted about Popovich (by the way, can ordinary folks stop referring to Popovich as “Pop”?  It’s way too familiar for a stranger) because a few years ago I would have been a big supporter of this caustic banter – or lack of banter – with the media.  The media has a haughtiness that can be every bit as annoying as anything Popovich might do.

I’ve had moments when I treated people with less respect than they might have been due for the sake of a laugh.  Back in the day, that was the core trait of my personality, but oddly, being a nice guy requires less effort and is more rewarding, so I choose not to indulge my caustic side.

Being nice isn’t a job requirement, but it makes work no more difficult to smile, take an interest in people’s lives, and treat almost everyone with respect.

There used to be a great sign in every Wendy’s restaurant.  It had a picture of Dave Thomas with a quote, “Just be nice.”  Popovich couldn’t work at a Wendy’s.

Conversely, being a dick doesn’t prevent anyone from being a success, and some people just don’t give a damn how they are perceived as long as they win.

People who find a way to succeed while also being a pleasant human being are far more interesting than those who treat others with indifference or worse.

That makes Popovich a member of an unfortunate club who will win, but never use that success to enhance the human condition.  That’s not his job, but it is his (and ours) responsibility as members of a society.

Let’s stop treating this cantankerous oaf like an amusing sideshow.  We should expect more of leaders.

10 thoughts on “Hey Gregg Popovich – You’re a Great Coach, But Stop Being an Ass

  1. CK

    Agree, he makes it tough to root for the Spurs. In choosing between Lebron or the Spurs, I have to go with the Spurs though. Although the media can be annoying, they are doing their jobs. Being gracious and taking the opportunity to spread the word about your franchise and to compliment your players while giving respect to your opponent should be a standard. Ultimately the fans pay your salary so why not, give them some insight into what happened from your perspective. Eric Spoelstra comes across as professional and respectful. Why would Popovich do the same??

  2. Daniel

    Popovich is a tenured/4 time champion. Either you don’t know what your talking about or you need to choose a different sport. In this case a different career.

  3. Ryan

    (Disclaimer: Spurs fan from birth) You may be right, but I don’t think its fair to brand a man as a terrible earthling because he doesn’t want to flirt with members of the media. I would argue that he has a right to be sore with the media as no one seems to give the Spurs any attention whatsoever unless they are forced to cover the finals featuring his team.

    And let us not pretend that any of us actually know the man personally. He may a complete jerk but his players don’t seem to think so. Duncan, Parker and Manu could have gone to any team in the league. Other teams would gladly take them away from the San Antonio.

    Maybe its Stockholm syndrome but these great players have chosen to stay year after year. I think that speaks volumes.

    1. Sam

      I question your “sources” on how he is an ass to people in the Spurs office. The way I see it, he just has a tough exterior and doesn’t deal with bullsh*t. He isn’t a people pleaser and just because he isn’t doesn’t mean he is an ass. And I disagree he devalues people which is how you conclude he is an ass. Most of those sideline reporters have great admiration and respect for pop as do players and coaches around the league. He is old school in a league that is completely catered towards their superstars. He brings out the best in players and sometimes you need that tough love to bring it out. I’ve read many other articles that show face to face with coach pop, he is genuine, caring, thoughtful, list goes on. Sure he can be brash during interviews but that’s who he is. He ain’t going to dance and do tricks just cuz you tell him to. And some of those reporter questions are stupid so they get a stupid response. If anything I would think the challenge to interview pop could make a reporter better at his/her job.

      So yea, I completely disagree that he thinks less of others. In fact I think he places great value in people and he is tough because he sees the best in someone.

      1. kentsterling Post author

        I’m sure that’s pretty close to Popovich’s self-appraisal too.

        Whether anyone is an ass depends on the definition of ass. Is it necessary to be an impatient jerk to get the best out of people? No. Can jerks be great coaches? Sure.

        Popovich fits my definition of an ass, and that belief was confirmed by two former members of the Spurs staff, whom you should feel free to question. They left the team on good terms, so there is no sour grapes. They just don’t like him, and their reasoning was excellent.

        1. Sam

          2 former spurs staff members that are unnamed I see. And not everybody will like you. You can be a great boss and there will always be a few that don’t like you and a few people you might now like. Could be because they didn’t work hard enough or maybe just personality clash. Some people don’t respond well to tough love. To me it’s a weak link to a conclusion.

          What about all the players that have gone through his system? Or even other broadcasters and journalists? I see more respect and admiration for his character and leadership then saying he is an ass. Btw, I believe people can act like an ass and not actually be an ass if you know what I mean. I’m sure we’ve all been impatient and some point and said/done ass-like things. I’m not saying he is perfect. But from my experience, if you are an ass by nature, people don’t admire, respect you, or trust you. Based on comments published and said by many people in the spurs organization and around the nba, coach pop seems to defined a leader not just based on his success. In fact success is just the fruit of his leadership.

          Again, should I believe your 2 unnamed sources or a whole list of people who have publicly speak fondly of the man and not just the coach he is?

          Even though I’m biased as a “coach pop fan” your arguments are not conclusive or substantial at all. But I guess journalism these days is only about stirring the pot.

          1. kentsterling Post author

            No worries on the punctuation and spelling. I screw that stuff up too.

            The Spurs people are unnamed because they were talking to me as a guy, not a writer. I view them as very trustworthy, or I wouldn’t summarize their thoughts. What I believe, I write. If you choose not to believe it, that’s fine, but you should know that I’m very careful about making sure I am as sure as I can be before opening my mouth, or moving fingers on a keyboard.

    2. kentsterling Post author

      There are a lot of coaches whose players are loyal to them. Popovich isn’t a terrible earthling – just an ass of a guy. That’s not just my opinion as a guy in the media who doesn’t much care for his indifference to what they need to get their job done, it’s also the considered perspective of two people who spent some time working in the front office. I was surprised in talking to them the lack of affection they had for Popovich.

      I hoped, like you, that maybe Popovich’s surly demeanor was reserved for the media, but it isn’t.


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