Popovich, of Serbian origin, is a 1966 graduate of Merrillville High School and a 1970 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. He played basketball for four seasons at the Academy, and in his senior year was the captain and the leading scorer. He graduated with his bachelors degree in Soviet Studies, and then served five years in the Air Force, during which he toured Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and played basketball with the U.S. Armed Forces Team. In 1972 he was named captain of the Armed Forces Team, which won the AAU championship; this earned him an invitation to the 1972 U.S. Olympic team training camp.
He returned to the Air Force Academy as an assistant coach in 1973, a position he held for 6 years. During this time, Popovich attended the University of Denver and obtained his Masters Degree in Physical Education and Sports Sciences. In 1979, he was named head coach of Pomona Pitzer's men's basketball team. He moved to the NBA and the Spurs in 1988, serving as an assistant coach to Larry Brown, with whom he remains close friends. He moved to the Golden State Warriors for a brief stint in 1992, serving as an assistant under Don Nelson.
In 1994 he became the General Manager of the Spurs, (a position he turned over to R.C. Buford in 2002), and took over as head coach after the firing of Bob Hill in 1996. Popovich is known around the league for his expressive coaching style, which is sometimes interpreted as an anger problem, especially when his team has been called for a foul; these actions lead to technical fouls, and in some cases, ejections. Nonetheless, "Pop" (as he is affectionately known to Spurs personnel and fans) is the most decorated coach in Spurs history, having led the team to their first championship in 1999, and to repeat performances in 2003 and 2005. Pop received the honour of the NBA Coach of the Year Award in 2003 after leading the Spurs to another championship. He also earned his 500th career victory on March 2, 2006, becoming the 4th fastest coach in NBA history to reach that milestone. He led the team to a 63-19 season in 2006, which set a new franchise season record.
Popovich has also represented the USA in international play, serving on the coaching staff for the 2002 World Basketball Championship, the 2003 FIBA America Men’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament, and the 2004 Olympic Games.
Off the court, Popovich is actively involved in several other San Antonio charities and programs, such as the Spurs/Pizza Hut Drug Free Youth Basketball League and the San Antonio Food Bank. He and his wife of 29 years, Erin, have two children, Micky and Jill.