Hard to believe, but Pop was once unwanted — by Spurs fans

Greg Popovich the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs draws up a play while on the bench against the Memphis Grizzlies in game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 20, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

Gregg Popovich was the coach nobody wanted.

It’s hard to fathom now, after five NBA championships as coach of the San Antonio Spurs and with him now alone in fifth place on the league’s all-time victory list. But it’s true — Popovich’s decision to fire Bob Hill and make himself coach and general manager in December 1996 was horribly received at first, leaving even some of his own players baffled.

The San Antonio Express-News took a poll after that season and found that 92 percent of Spurs fans wanted Popovich fired.

As Popovich would suggest now (on politics, one of his favorite topics), sometimes voters get it wrong.

“The pressure is always there for any coach,” Popovich said. “You’ve got to get the job done. If you don’t, you’re not there. If you do get it done, you get to stay.”

He said those words in 1997. He was right.

Popovich now has 1,176 wins. He’s 34 away from No. 4 Pat Riley, 45 shy of No. 3 Jerry Sloan, and should catch both next season. He would need 156 to catch No. 2 Lenny Wilkens, and 159 to match No. 1 Don Nelson’s record of 1,335.

“Doesn’t mean anything, except I’ve had good players and I’ve been coaching for eons,” Popovich said.

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