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Who is the Highest-Paid NBA Coach Ever?

San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich is the highest-paid NBA coach ever. While the details of “Coach Pop’s” paycheck are not open to the public, NBA insiders have suggested that the tactician earns anywhere between $11 million and $13 million a year making him one of the best-paid coaches in US sports and indeed in the whole world.

A Student of the Game

While it is not exactly known when Popovich was introduced to basketball, many historians have suggested that the Indiana native must have developed a passion for the game during his teenage years at little-known Merrillville High School. The then 17-year-old joined the United States Air Force Academy to pursue a degree in Soviet Studies.

It was during his time at the institution that Popovich’s inherent skills and understanding of the game first came to light as he went on to become the captain and leading scorer of the Air Force’s men’s basketball team – appropriately dubbed the Falcons.

Popovich later joined the US Armed Forces Basketball team whom he toured with during his mandatory five years of active duty and was later named captain of the Armed Forces team. His leadership proved vital as the team went on to win the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championship in 1972, earning him an invitation to that year’s Olympic trials with the US Basketball team.

Rather than pursue a promising basketball career or a job in the intelligence community having undergone intelligence training while at the Air Force, Popovich opted to try his hand at coaching and rejoined the Air Force Academy as an assistant coach to Hank Egan in 1973.

After learning the ropes for six years, Pop got his first head coaching job at the joint Pomona-Pitzer College team where he continued to hone his craft for another nine years, eventually leading to their first title in almost seven decades.

During his stint at the college, Popovich developed a working relationship and friendship with former University of Kansas head coach, Larry Brown, who would later give him his first shot at coaching in the NBA.

Taking the Reins

Unknown to many a basketball fan, Popovich’s storied tenure with the San Antonio Spurs started in the late 1980s as the lead assistant to former coach Larry Brown. At the time, the Spurs were a struggling franchise with very little success. His first stint at the Spurs lasted barely four years before the western conference side led both Brown and his entire coaching staff, including Popovich, to be let go.

Having proved his mettle as a reliable assistant coach at the Spurs, Popovich quickly got a job with the Golden State Warriors in 1992 under legendary coach and Hall of Famer, Don Nelson. Popovich continued to thrive under Nelson for the next two years earning the respect and admiration of his peers and players around the league.

Recognizing the need for someone with his unique skill set, the Spurs offered Popovich the role of General Manager and vice president of basketball operations in 1994, which he gladly accepted. During his time at the position, Popovich made the historic trade that sent Dennis Rodman to the Chicago Bulls to kickstart their second three-peat and resigned former point guard Avery Johnson who had followed him to the Warriors after the end of his first stint.

Despite having a better roster that included the likes of star center David Robinson and high-flyer Dominique Wilkins, the Spurs had arguably their worst start to a season in the 1996-97 campaign with just 3 wins and 18 games prompting Popovich to fire then-head coach Bob Hill before assuming the role himself.

Chief among Hill’s shortcomings was the poor management of the team’s players which had resulted in marquee players like Robinson and key contributors like Chuck Person and Sean Elliott sustaining injuries en route to a dismal 20-62 that season.

The Unicorn of Coaching in the NBA

The setback ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise as the Spurs went on to select power forward Tim Duncan with the first overall pick of the 1997 draft to usher in their most prosperous era. Duncan and Robinson quickly formed a formidable partnership that saw the spurs win 56 games the very next season and their first-ever NBA title in 1999.

Popovich has since led the Spurs to another four NBA titles (2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014) and is the most-tenured head coach in the history of the NBA having held his current position for over 26 years . Recent statistics show that the average tenure of most NBA coaches lasts only 2.5 years.

The three-time NBA Coach of the Year also holds the records for the most regular season wins, the most wins in NBA history (regular season + playoffs), and the most win with a single franchise. To put these achievements into perspective, the Spurs’ record over the years since Pop took over has been so stellar that they can lose all 82 games over the next few seasons and still have a franchise record that is above .500.

The four-time NBA All-Star Game head coach has also mentored countless former and current NBA head coaches as both coaches and players including Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks), Monty Williams (Phoenix Suns), Ime Udoka (Boston Celtics), Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), and James Borrego (Charlotte Hornets).

Other notable players who Popovich has coached include four-time NBA Champions Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili who thrived under his tutelage despite being selected 28th and 57th respectively in their drafts.

Many also credit two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard’s success to Popovich as he helped transform the former 15th overall pick from a defensive specialist with an unreliable offensive game to a threat on both ends of the floor and a two-time NBA finals MVP.

List of the Highest-Paid NBA Coaches

Joining Pop in the list of the best-paid NBA coaches are:

  • Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors) – $9.5 million.
  • Doc Rivers (Philadelphia 76ers) – $8.5 million (other sources suggest that River’s salary may be in the neighborhood of $10 million).
  • Eric Spoelstra (Miami Heat) – $8.5 million.
  • Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks) – $8 million.
  • Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors) – $8 million.
  • Jason Kidd (Dallas Mavericks) – $8 million.
  • Rick Carlisle (Indiana Pacers) – $7.25 million
  • Tyronn Lue (Los Angeles Clippers) – $6.5 million.