First, here are a couple of in-depth articles about Pop, some info about his background and what shaped him to become the mellow, media-loving, happiness-pursuing coach we know and love.
Pop, please come back! We need you, and the team and its environment is a strong source of support.
Relationship building, hard work helped Popovich rise from humble start
Popovich's values were shaped by the totality of his life experiences as a young player in basketball-mad Indiana; as a college player who had to prove himself to Spear at the U.S. Air Force Academy and his assistant, Hank Egan; on Armed Forces All-Star teams in international competitions in the 1970s; and then as a young coach, first at his alma mater and from 1979-88 at the most unlikely of proving grounds for the NBA: Pomona-Pitzer, where he accepted a job as head coach after leaving active duty as a captain in the Air Force.
“He's bright as hell and he works as hard as can be,” Brown said. “He's got a unique ability to be on guys but make them understand that he loves and cares about them, which he does.
“Doug Moe, Coach Smith, Coach (Frank) McGuire — the great coaches — can be demanding and get in your face but at the end of the day the players know you care and love them and they'll do just about anything for them. Not everybody has that ability, but Pop clearly did.
“He worked at his job and constantly wanted to learn and get better and that's rare, especially among elite coaches.”
Virtue of perseverance
The Popovich way, then and now: Play hard. Value relationships. Be loyal. Give 100 percent in everything you do. And compete ... above all, compete....
“Popo loves to compete and that's what I learned from him: competition and that's what life is,” Duque said. “That's what basketball brought to me, that you give 100 percent in everything that we do and we take care of each other in everything we do. We take care of relationships no matter where people are in the pecking order. From the custodians to the guys that clean the gym floor to the secretaries, we treat everybody the same.
“To him, everybody was equal.”
Popovich's steel roots built solid foundation for NBA success
Of sports and steel
A mill job was considered a plum gig. The money was good and a pension guaranteed.... “He didn't want that for himself,” said Max Hutchinson, who taught Popovich math for two years at Merrillville High. “He wanted to go to school.” By accepting a commission to the Air Force Academy upon graduation in 1966, Popovich became one of the first seniors in Merrillville history to attend a military academy.
But there was something else beckoning him, too. If there was anything that bound denizens of northwest Indiana as tightly than steel, it was sports. It wasn't long before basketball found its way into Popovich's blood. “He had what we called 'the basketball jones,'” said Arlie Pierce, Popovich's best friend since junior high.
Making the cut
In 1963, Metcalf cut Popovich from the basketball team. The kid who once dreamed of playing for the great Washington High School Senators in East Chicago couldn't hack it as a Merrillville Pirate. Instead of backing down, Popovich bucked up. As Pierce recalls it, Popovich collared him the next day, and the two marched to the outdoor courts at 39th and Broadway in neighboring Gary for pick-up games. “That's where he learned to be tough,” Pierce said....
By the time Popovich returned to try out for Metcalf as a junior, the coach still called him Craig. But he also called Popovich the Pirates' starting center.It was, perhaps, Popovich's first lesson in pounding the rock. “The thing I learned quickly about Gregg,” Vermillion said, “is you don't slow him down.”
He also was an honor student, admired by teachers and fellow classmates alike.... And Spurs players would do well to envision this image the next time they are confronted with a red-faced Popovich going ballistic in a timeout huddle: according to those who knew him, Popovich was a fan of Motown music, and loved to dance.
Still, even as a teenager Popovich's thoughts seldom strayed far from basketball. While his friends certainly liked the game, his was a single-minded obsession. Classmates remember Popovich wearing ankle weights in the halls of Merrillville High, in attempts to increasing leg strength. When the school bell rang at the end of the day, Popovich scurried off to find a game. “He had an unusual drive that most kids don't have,” Vermillion said.
Though Popovich has gone on to become a well-traveled citizen of the world, as at home in Indianapolis as Istanbul, he remains at heart a working-class kid from Merrillville. “People forget where they come from sometimes,” said Janis Qualizza, the athletic director at Merrillville High. “He's not one of those guys.” In 2005, a few months after leading the Spurs to their third title, Popovich returned to the gym at Merrillville when the school decided to retire his No. 21 jersey. The Pirates were facing rival Crown Point that night. The place was packed.... Popovich stayed for the entire game, then lingered for an hour to sign autographs and shake hands.... After the jersey retirement ceremony, Beckham says a still-grinning Popovich thanked her then added: “I can't believe you retired my jersey. I sucked.”