Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With Mike Krzyzewski definitely out as the
head coach of USA Men's Basketball, his successor is much clearer for that job
than his regular gig at Duke.
Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs is the obvious candidate to lead the
As a coach, he fits the profile in almost every way imaginable.
As a personality, there might be some issues.
Strictly basketball-wise, Pop is one of the greatest coaches in the history of
the sport. He owns four NBA titles as a head coach and his career regular-
season record is 892-412 for a .684 winning percentage. His playoff numbers
are 118-77 for a .605 mark.
Pop's 892 regular-season wins rank him 12th all-time and that winning
percentage is third among coaches with 600 games. He has the third-most
playoff wins and fourth-best winning percentage among coaches with at least 65
That's stout. That's Phil Jackson territory. Pop's going into the Hall of Fame
one day and it won't be long after he leaves the Spurs' sidelines.
Pop has international experience to boot.
He was an assistant to Larry Brown at the 2004 Olympics. Turned out to be a
disastrous bronze medal, thanks to an ill-conceived roster, where too many
stars of the game didn't want to play. Pop was also an assistant to George
Karl at the 2002 FIBA World Championship.
Popovich even served his country. He graduated from the United States Air
Force Academy, played all four seasons there and, after five years of active
duty and leading the Armed Forces Team to an Amateur Athletic Union
championship, he was invited to try out for the 1972 US Olympic team.
Pop has made a career of taking what others considered to be retreads and made
them integral rotation pieces for the best organization in the NBA. He's
coached more foreign players than any American and, yes, he's had an all-time
great in Tim Duncan, but he's made stars of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
And Popovich has made impact players of Danny Green, Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard
and DeJuan Blair in recent seasons.
He is clearly the best coach of professional basketball players in the United
States, if not the world. He can handle egos and personalities.
So why hasn't USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo handed Pop the reins?
You ever see the movie "Charlie Wilson's War?" Probably not, but let me
There's a scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman's character is passionately
ratting off all of these amazing achievements that should make him a CIA
station chief. Hoffman's character asks why the job isn't his. His boss
replies, "You're coarse."
Popovich can be tougher to be around than your mother-in-law. He's gruff with
the media, but that all really masks an intellectual and wine enthusiast.
The biggest hurdle seems to be his relationships with the hierarchy of USA
Popovich reportedly had a falling out with Colangelo at some point. Different
reports will tell you it had to do with something when Colangelo ran the Suns.
Others will say it revolved around Pop getting passed over after 2004.
Per a 2007 column from Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, Colangelo gave his thoughts
on Popovich's interview for the job in 2005.
"I think (Popovich) had a bad taste in his mouth regarding his most recent
experiences with USA Basketball, some bitterness, and that came out in my
conversation with him," Colangelo said. "He seemed burned out by it. He just
wasn't as enthusiastic as Mike."
Wojnarowski went on to say Popovich was furious at the assertion. Seems
reasonable for a man who served his country on different levels, and excelled
as a basketball coach to be a wee-bit perturbed by the notion he wasn't
enthusiastic about coaching his national team at its highest level.
Has enough time expired to soothe Popovich? Seems so, at least from Pop's end.
"Anybody would feel honored to have their name mentioned as far as the Olympic
movement is concerned," Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News this week.
"There are a lot of people who can fill that role. That goes without saying.
Anybody would feel humbled and honored to even be talked about in that
So Pop is interested, but there's one more potential roadblock, or, shall we
say, one more rocky relationship that could cost him the job.
Popovich and outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern are not friends.
Earlier this season, Pop took the unusual step of flying Duncan, Parker,
Ginobili and Green back to San Antonio before a nationally televised game in
Miami, against the defending champion Heat. The Spurs finished a long road
trip and their coach wanted to give those players time to rest.
Did Popovich need to fly them home commercial? Of course, he didn't. He was
sending a message that he thought the NBA's schedule was unfair to his Spurs.
Stern fined the Spurs $250,000 and said, "The Spurs did a disservice to the
league and our fans."
Stern and Colangelo are friends. If Stern has any pull over USA Basketball
that extends past friendship, then Pop might want to prepare a congratulatory
text to the Boston Celtics' Doc Rivers.
Personal issues factor into things, but if Colangelo is committed to naming
the right and best man (which I think he is), then Popovich will lead the U.S.
He's a Hall of Fame coach with international experience, the respect of
everyone in the basketball world, including his prospective team, and served
Popovich should be the choice.
But, he is coarse.
The Sports Network