Transcript: Gregg Popovich Named 2017-20 USA National Team Head Coach
The future leadership for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team was disclosed today when USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo officially announced that five-time NBA championship and longtime San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been named head coach of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team for the 2017-20 quadrennium. Below is the transcript from today's teleconference on the announcement.
We were very pleased and myself personally to make the announcement that Gregg Popovich has accepted the opportunity and the offer to coach the senior National Team through the next quad, '17, '18, '19, and '20. As I said at the press conference, there really wasn't a list of people to talk with. He was the man that I wanted to take over when Coach "K" finishes his tenure in Rio at the Olympics in 2016.
After having met with him this summer and he having time to really think it through and receiving a call from him that he was willing to accept that opportunity, I could not have been more pleased. He represents everything that USA Basketball is all about.
He gets it. He's a guy who understands the international game. He wears, I believe, his feelings about his country on his sleeve. He put in his time in the military. He's a winner. He has great character, and everything about him made him the logical person to take over USA Basketball in terms of coaching. So I couldn't be more pleased. I think USA Basketball is in great shape as we look at the future.
As one might imagine, this is a pretty humbling experience in many ways. Not something that was expected, but I am thrilled that I was asked, and I look forward to the challenge. The success that USA Basketball has had is incredible over the last decade, and I hope to maintain and honor the standards that have been set by Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski, and all the players who have sacrificed over that decade, dozens of players have decided to be part of that culture, and I take that responsibility very seriously and look forward to doing whatever I can to maintain it and keep it going.
So many times Coach "K" had said why he thought a college coach was such a good choice for this role. What made you think it was time to go back to an NBA coach going forward?
Colangelo: Well, I think different circumstances call for different actions. Back then I thought it was appropriate to put someone in place that didn't have any other commitment or agenda as it related to the professional players. It just seemed like that was a better fit at the time.
I think after we've had the success that we've had and we've established a culture where the players want to participate and they're committed to it, putting in the infrastructure you've heard me talk about so often, that this is a natural move to go as we have from a college coach to a professional coach. It was time to make that transition and it's seamless when you talk about the resumes of both of these outstanding, incredible coaches and people. So I just don't think it could have turned out any better.
Coach, how have you seen the culture around USA Basketball change since you were last involved with it in 2004?
Popovich: Well, I think the first thing that one notices are the structural changes. Since Jerry came, the infrastructure has been put into place that allows for a selection, for development over a long period of time. That corporate knowledge creates a culture, and that never really was there. So at this point after instituting that for a decade or more, it seems that it's pretty seamless, as he said, and it's just moves on and on. It's got momentum. I think that's the main thing, having somebody in charge that is autonomous, can make those decisions, and set up that structure.
The players have obviously realized that it's a good way for them to develop both for their NBA jobs and doing something that's wonderful for the country, something they're proud of, something their families are proud of, and something they'll always remember.
I'm just wondering if at some point in the last, I don't know, four or six years, you had any thoughts or any belief in your own mind, in your own heart, that no matter what you might have wanted to happen, that this may not be there for you? That this job may never have come open at a time when you were able to accept it? And if that was the case, how did you kind of compartmentalize that feeling or that emotion?
Popovich: Well, I would be dishonest if I didn't say that it's gone through my mind. Anybody would have aspirations to be in this sort of position, and of course it went through my head. But in that period of the last four to six years that you just mentioned, I think I pretty much thought that that ship had sailed, in all honesty.
But as far as compartmentalizing it, you're a grown up. We're all mature. We have families, we have lives, our lives take different paths. Everything one might want, one does not get, and you move on. When you look at the program and you see the success, the right coach at the right time was picked, and there couldn't have been a better selection at that time or through the last few years. When you're rolling, you roll, and that's what they did.
I had a chance to watch you coach or help Larry coach in 2004 in Athens, and I suppose that was really kind of the breaking point for USA Basketball. Is this a chance for you to kind of maybe put that behind you and also to ‑‑ it wasn't a great situation at a time for USA Basketball, but now you can be something that's much more positive. Is that something that you are really looking forward to?
Popovich: Not for that reason at all. I put that behind me long ago. Life is too short to carry on thinking about things that might not have been the most pleasant in your existence. But I honestly put that away a long time ago. This in no way is going to be a help in putting it away or I finally got to do something like this the right way. There is none of that. That would just be silly on my part. I honestly look forward to this only because it's a challenge, because it's a chance to be part of something where you can sacrifice for your country and enjoy that experience because of the culture that's been set to deal with these players that have been in this program for so long, and the new players that will be coming along and developing. All those sorts of challenges are why I accepted the job, and because Jerry Colangelo is going to be there through 2020. If he wasn't going to be there, my answer was no.
This is a program as I said to my last questioner that's rolling and the momentum is going. He and Mike have done an unbelievable job along with the dozens of players. So that's what it's all about. It's got nothing to do with the past or anything.
At the time you were helping out with the coaching, did you know already the types of steps that needed to take place for USA Basketball? Or were you just kind of sitting back and watching Jerry Colangelo pull the strings and think, wow, he's doing a great job?
Popovich: Well, at the end of 2004, we gave our opinions on what might be a way to go forward. Everybody has opinions about situations they go through. So we pass those opinions on but that was it. Then a change obviously needed to be made and it was made, and Jerry Colangelo was put in charge and the story speaks for itself. It needed to be done.
This week’s survey among NBA general managers says that Spain and Canada are most likely to challenge USA in the next decade. What is your opinion?
Popovich: Please don't think me glib, but I don't really have an opinion on that because all I'm focused on is enjoying 2016 Olympics and watching this team under Coach Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo go do its thing, and hopefully bring back a gold medal. That's really what I'm going to concentrate on and trying to learn about the program and observe what's going on, so that I can do a decent job. That's my concern.
So after 2016, then I'll begin to worry about other teams and competition.
Coach, you mentioned the admiration you have for the buy‑in that USA Basketball is receiving from so many star NBA players, and beyond the obvious culture that's been created, and the momentum that's been generated over the last decade. Do you think there are any other reasons for that buy‑in that's developed over time?
Popovich: Well, I think that people want to be part of something that's successful, and they want to be part of something that is satisfying and gives them feelings of satisfaction. So I think that very honestly the culture and the structure that have been put in place have provided that and created an environment where players would want to be part when they see the success that comes, when they see the camaraderie that gets built really between generations. It's new people all the time that are being funneled into the program, and everybody wants to be part of it.
So I really think it's all about that. It's not monetary gain. And the satisfaction after the group comes together, they start to feel good about the fact they did it for their country, and not much can be better than that, competitively.
Given that you've been associated with creating that same kind of identity and culture on the NBA level with San Antonio, how rewarding or exciting is that opportunity for you to maybe work on that same dynamic at a level representing your country?
Popovich: Well, I'm more than thrilled to take on the responsibility. It's something that I wasn't expecting. At this point I just feel that ‑‑ I feel the responsibility of maintaining what's been established and doing whatever I can to honor that. As I said to other people, it's what Jerry and Mike and the players have put together. It's all about that.