SAN ANTONIO, Texas: When Erik Spoelstra was playing college basketball at the University of Portland he decided to tell his father that he would one day like to become a basketball coach.
“He told me, he said ‘Where did I go wrong? I’ve known too many coaches and they are all crazy.’ He certainly didn’t push me into it,” Spoelstra said of his father, who was an NBA executive at the time.
Perhaps Spoelstra’s father knew something that Erik didn’t—that NBA head coaches are hired to be fired.
Both Miami Heat coach Spoelstra and Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs say the lack of job security for NBA head coaches is a troubling trend and sometimes more about impatient ownership than it is about poor coaching.
Of the league’s 30 teams, a dozen will have new coaches next season, including the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies.
“I think it’s a terrible state for the profession right now,” said Spoelstra who is the first Filipino-American head coach in the history of North America’s four major sports, comprising basketball, football, ice hockey and baseball.
“We don’t see it as coincidence. I think it’s really a shame for the profession of coaching that it’s been so volatile.”
Spoelstra’s Heat are facing the Spurs in the NBA finals with the series tied 2-2. Pivotal game five is on Sunday at AT&T Center arena in San Antonio.
Popovich, 64, said the high turnover rate is disturbing and some owners make the mistake of taking losing personally and then go looking for a scapegoat.
“Some owners think it’s easier than it really is,” Popovich said. “It’s difficult to win an NBA game, let alone playoff game-type situation.
“You don’t just go draft or make this trade or sign this free agent and then it gets done. It’s very difficult.”
“And when things don’t happen quickly, I think some owners become frustrated. Some even take it personally. Almost like a little bit of an embarrassment because they’ve been so successful in their own way and have a hard time understanding this business.
“If you can have continuity, a good group, a team, so to speak, and all that that entails and keep it in a continuous manner so that it grows more or less upon itself . . . you can deal with adversity. You cannot get too pumped up about success but just enjoy it and realize how fleeting it might be.
“But the change, change, change, change, change thing doesn’t really work.”
Popovich, whose father is of Serbian and his mother Croatian descent, has been a basketball coach for the past 40 years. He has coached the Spurs since 1996 and has four championship rings 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007.
Popovich is third all-time in playoff wins and first among active coaches. He has won more playoff games with one team than anyone in NBA history.
The sometimes surly Popovich, known to cut interviews with reporters short if he doesn’t like the line of questioning, spoke at length on Friday about the difficult job of coaching.