|Riley resigns as Heat coach; Erik Spoelstra to take over|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 28 April 2008 22:11|
The Hall of Fame coach stepped down from the Miami Heat sideline on Monday, although he'll remain team president. His first act as Miami's former coach was to choose its new one, and he hired Erik Spoelstra, a 37-year-old who started in the Heat video room in 1995 and now becomes the NBA's youngest coach.
Riley retired once before, only to come back when Stan Van Gundy stepped down 21 games into the 2005-06 season, Miami's championship campaign. Although he knows the perception exists that says otherwise, Riley insists he never wanted to return then - and won't be talked into it one more time.
``I am definitely sure that I don't want to do this anymore,'' Riley said.
So now, after spending several days plotting the Heat's next course, Riley's past becomes Spoelstra's future.
Riley was 36 when he first became a head coach, and like Spoelstra today, he didn't have any experience either. His first off-the-court job in the NBA was traveling secretary for the Los Angeles Lakers, handling boarding passes. Spoelstra also was at the bottom of the Heat totem pole when starting out, making videos for the team Christmas party, but Riley is convinced he's ready for the top job.
``It's very rare to have the opportunity to work for one organization for your entire career like I have,'' said Spoelstra, who was told the job was his Friday. ``It means it's a special organization.''
Miami finished with the NBA's poorest record (15-67), by far the worst of Riley's career. As president, Riley will continue overseeing the plan to revamp a franchise just two years removed from a championship, after deciding he'd best benefit the franchise from the front office.
Riley's future was among Miami's many offseason issues. The Heat could have the No. 1 pick in the draft, are assured a top-four pick and are certain to make moves in an effort to revamp a roster plagued by injuries.
``Pat Riley has instilled in me values that enabled me to win a championship in just three seasons,'' Heat guard Dwyane Wade said Monday. ``I've seen him do the necessary things to make us winners and I believe that with his focus on being president and his commitment to the team, we will once again become a contender.''
Wade has worked extensively with Spoelstra in practices and 1-on-1 sessions.
``I believe in Coach Spo and have complete confidence that our team will succeed with him at the helm,'' Wade said.
Spoelstra indicated he would like to keep assistants Ron Rothstein, Bob McAdoo and Keith Askins.
Riley finishes his career with 1,210 victories, third most in NBA history behind Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson. He won seven championships, including five as a head coach, and was voted into the Hall of Fame class this month.
``I think the call from the Hall of Fame did something to me,'' Riley said. ``There was a lot of emotion on that telephone call. When you come to the finish, or you know it's the best time, it's a clean ending.''
Riley essentially began the rebuilding job in February, when he traded disgruntled center Shaquille O'Neal to the Phoenix Suns. The move not only rid the team of a player who didn't want to remain in Miami, but gave the Heat some salary-cap room that wouldn't otherwise have been available until O'Neal's contract expired in 2010.
In recent years, many team insiders considered Spoelstra as the person Riley would promote when he deemed the time was right.
That time was Monday.
``He's a man that was born to coach,'' Riley said.
Riley started his head coaching career with the Los Angeles Lakers, winning a championship in his first season with a team led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also took the New York Knicks to the NBA finals before coming to Miami in 1995, where on the day he was introduced he famously talked about envisioning a championship parade down Biscayne Boulevard.
Eleven years later, that vision became reality.
And if it happens again, it'll come with Riley watching from off the court.
``I've worked for a great leader, a Hall of Fame coach and someone who's been a great mentor to me for 13 years,'' Spoelstra said. ``It's been a great relationship.''
Riley told the story Monday of his final pregame speech. He talked to players that night about the movie ``Forrest Gump,'' particulary the portion where Tom Hanks' character spends three years running around the country for no particular reason.
``He was leaving his past behind him. And that's what we have to do,'' Riley said. ``I'm leaving mine behind me. I'm leaving last year behind me. It's been a wonderful experience and it's been a great journey. Now it's Erik's.''