By Lance Fell
Last Saturday’s 100-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers gave Gregg Popovich his 700th victory, all with the Spurs. Popovich is the 16th coach to reach the milestone. He also has the third highest winning percentage of all coaches with a minimum of 500 games.
And while Pop will no doubt go down as one of the great coaches of all time, it’s the men behind him, his incredible coaching staffs, which have helped him reach this point in his career, and his assistants this year are no different. When Pop leads his team to the court, he’s like General George Patton, leading his men into the Battle of Normandy in World War Two. And just like Patton, Pop has his own Colonels and Brigadier Generals to follow him into battle each and every night.
Mike Budenholzer is Pop’s Lieutenant General and right hand man, yet this is his first year as the number one assistant. Budenholzer was hired in 1994, along with R.C. Buford, by Gregg Popovich after playing one season of professional basketball in Denmark. In his one season, Budenholzer averaged 27.5 points a game. He stood by Pop as the Spurs’ video coordinator.
One thing he brings to the team is trust. Budenholzer, along with Buford, have been with the spurs front office longer than anyone. When the Spurs take the floor, Pop knows he can trust Budenholzer to make the right decisions and execute the game plan properly. Budenholzer is also great in clutch situations. He has a wonderful knowledge of the game, and is able to perform in the most intense moments without crushing under the pressure. On the battlefield, there is no one that Pop trusts more.
The Colonel in Pop’s army is Don Newman. He brings over 20 years of coaching experience to Pop’s staff, and with his masters degree in education, knows how to teach and mentor young players. Newman’s understanding of the game and his ability to effectively train and instruct young players, has lead to the development of young players like Tony Parker and the more recent George Hill.
Newman had a long journey before finally ending up with the Spurs organization. He coached with five collegiate teams before coming to the NBA. His first stint was with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1999. In 2002, he was named assistant coach of the USA Men’s National team, which won sixth place at the championship games in Indiana. He was then hired by the New Jersey Nets in 2003, and lastly hired by the Spurs as an assistant in 2004.
Brett Brown, Pop’s Captain, brings a knowledge and understanding of the game to the Spurs that some might say surpasses some of the younger head coaches in the NBA like Vinny Del Negro of the Chicago Bulls and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat. He coached professionally in Australia in the National Basketball League and is sixth on the all time list with 149 wins. In 1994, Brown was named Coach of the year while leading the North Melbourne Giants to the National Championship. He joined the Spurs in 2002 and joined Pop on the bench on 2007.
Every year, when the season starts, there is one goal in mind, and that’s bringing an NBA Championship to the city of San Antonio. Brown has a championship pedigree, and he also played college ball at Boston University under Rick Pitino so Pop knows Brown can meet his high expectations.
Have you noticed how consistent Tony Parker is with his 15-18 foot jumper? Well, you can thank Pop’s first Lieutenant and world class shooting coach Chip Engelland. Engelland has helped numerous players with their shooting technique, including former Spur and legendary shooter Steve Kerr. Engelland was in charge of player development for the Denver Nuggets for two years before coming to San Antonio in 2005. He has been known as a player’s coach and is always willing to help any player develop their game and shooting ability.
The youngest of Pop’s officers, and his Second Lieutenant, is Chad Forcier. But don’t confuse his youth with inexperience. Forcier worked for George Karl in Seattle when Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were tearing up the NBA. He’s also worked for Rick Carlisle and the Detroit Pistons from 2001 to 2003. Forcier was an assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers from 2003 to 2007 when he joined the Silver and Black.
Every night, when the Spurs take the court, it’s a battle. Two teams fight for honor, pride and to win. And while Tim Duncan leads the infantry out to the battlefield, it is Pop and his officers who develop a game plan and see to it is executed to perfection. Each one of Pop’s assistants play a vital role in the success of the Spurs, and thankfully each one of them is up to the challenge.