Bill Bellichick and Gregg Popovich have been the greatest coaches of my lifetime and probably of all time. They have been so dominant in their respective sports for so long, in an age where parody reigns supreme, these men are driven, proven leaders who have flourished in the face of adversity time and time again. Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs has amassed 1195 Wins in 1733 career games. Belichick has won 250 games in 326, but let’s be fair, his first 5 years coaching were with an abysmal organization in Cleveland, who haven’t sniffed a playoff win in almost 25 years. Regular season wins aside, each of these coaches have won 5 titles since 1999. If we boil out all the championships and wins and examine each coaches strategies and work demeanor these two could not be more different.
Bill Belichick is a very serious, commanding presence. He would never give the media two seconds worth of game plan or insightful injury updates, but ask him about Bon Jovi and the guy just gushes. Belichick is all business, he simultaneously prepares for the Super Bowl and the future seamlessly every year, and no one(almost) is above the organization. He has let countless staples of championship teams go in free agency and has been the only coach to get players to take massive pay cuts in hopes for Championship rings. An assistant under Bill Parcells in New York and New England, he coached the Giants terrifying defense anchored by the great Lawrence Taylor. Parcells was the loud in your face coach that challenged players to be better. With Belichick there was a more calculated approach, he uses film advanced metrics and grueling practices to prepare his team for any scenario and uses the fear of trading or cutting players as a motivator to inspire consistent excellence.
Belichick rarely makes mistakes, he coaxes the opposition to beat him just simply because they are better, which is a near impossible task. They don’t muff punts, fumble often or throw interceptions. If a player does make mistakes they usually ship them to a non threatening team like Cleveland and they are just a faint memory by the next game.
Belichick’s reign as best coach, will forever be interlocked with his relationship to Tom Brady. In 2001 Brady was just a kid in the right place at the right time, a true underdog story. Drafted in the sixth round….blah..blah.blah we get it he’s the GOAT. Fast forward to today, Brady still plays with a chip on his shoulder and Belichick seems like he may never take his foot off of the gas.
Gregg Popovich has been the best coach in the NBA for some time now. Against the Kobe and Shaq Lakers he thrived, against the great Pistons, Celtics and Miami Heat teams he still thrived. It could be argued that no coach has ever done as much as Pop in a smaller market city. In a league where super teams are built seemingly yearly and superstars are aplenty. For 18 straight seasons he has guided his team to 50+ wins and if it weren’t for the NBA lockout season where every team only played 50 games it would be 20 seasons in a row. How has he been able to sustain this amazing consistency? Well his players love him and he loves his players. Even now after 20+ years coaching, you see him smiling on the court when Danny Green or Patty Mills hits a clutch shot. He takes veteran stars at the end of their prime like Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol and makes them relevant again. His game plans consist of tough perimeter defense and ball distribution and a player is never too good to be taught a lesson.
On Bill Simmons podcast last fall, Steve Kerr was reminiscing on his time under Popovich and one thing that stood out was that he always invited everyone that ever played for him or coached for him to his dinners. That’s incredible that someone as enveloped in the game would share a seat with anyone who has ever been in his employ.
Popovich and GM R.C. Buford have built a sustainable dynasty the likes of which the NBA won’t soon see again. Their eyes for talent surpass any of their peers. They drafted Tony Parker at 28 in the 2001 draft and Manu Ginobili at pick 57 in the 1999 draft. These players have been staples for the franchise for the entirety of this amazing run. Even Kawhi Leonard was taken 15th, I’ll let you guess how many other players from that draft have been Finals MVP.
What Makes Them Different?
Where Popovich teaches, Belichick normally cuts or trades. Belichick approaches a team like a business and Popovich like a family. Popovich is outspoken about politics and civil rights and Belicheck is reserved in his opinions. In Belichick mind it seems like no one is above the organization and in Pops eyes the organization doesn’t mean as much as everything else. Belichick is the GM and coach and Popovich just coaches. Both of these men are titans in their respective sports and when all is said and done neither will be forgotten.