Gregg Popovich

There’s some sad news from the San Antonio Spurs, who announced Wednesday that Erin Popovich, wife of head coach Gregg, has passed away:

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that Erin “had been ill over an extended period.” No further details have been provided at this point.

Erin met Gregg at the Air Force Academy, where he was first a cadet and then an assistant coach; she was the daughter of long-time trainer Jim Conboy. And she was friends with Betsy Gwin, the daughter of then-dean of faculty General Robert McDermott, who would later go on to hire Popovich as general manager in San Antonio in 1994, a move many questioned at the time given that he had just six seasons as a NBA assistant coach and only had head coaching experience at Division III Pomona-Pitzer. In 2015, Gwin told Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News that her father chose Popovich partly thanks to those connections:

“Daddy knew that because Gregg had been at Golden State under ‘Nellie’ [Don Nelson], who was both GM and head coach, he had gotten a lot of experience,” Gwin said. “But really, it was his background as an academy grad and just his commitment to discipline and excellence” that got him hired.

…Of course, it didn’t hurt that Gwin’s childhood best friend growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was Popovich’s wife, Erin. Because of that relationship, Gwin encouraged her father to make the hire.

…But Gwin said she also stressed to her father that Popovich’s tutelage under NBA coaching greats Brown and Nelson had prepared him well to run a team.

“Daddy and I talked about it a lot because he really didn’t know that much about basketball,” Gwin said. “But he knew with Gregg he was going to get someone who would work hard and be ethical and be above board and wasn’t out for glory for himself.”

Ultimately, McDermott made up his mind after calling several of his Air Force Academy contacts for their thoughts on Popovich.

So Erin played an important role in Gregg getting that job, and she played an important role in his coaching life (he took over as Spurs’ head coach in 1996 after firing Bob Hill following a 3-15 start, and has been there since), even encouraging him (as he relayed in a 2012 interview) to be nicer to sideline reporters.

“It entertains everybody but my wife. When I get home and she says ‘Geez, why are you so mean? You’re a jerk, people hate you.’ I go ‘I’m sorry, honey, I have to do better next time.'”

“And there’s no exaggeration. ‘Did you see that guy, honey? Did you see him? All you have to do is see him and you know why I answered the way I did.’ (She says) ‘That’s no excuse, you’re a grown man. Show some maturity.’ I said ‘I can’t, I can’t do it.”

Erin’s loss will certainly be a difficult one for the Popovich family, and it comes at an a tough time, with the Spurs trailing the Warriors 2-0 and preparing for Game Three Thursday. We’ll see if Popovich coaches in that one, but it would certainly be understandable if he doesn’t.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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