Riley, Hill have similar styles, stories

Updated: January 13, 2006, 2:29 PM ET
By Frank Hughes | Special to ESPN.com

If Friday night's game between the Miami Heat and Seattle SuperSonics had occurred about 33 days ago, the two coaches roaming the sidelines would look something like Ron Jeremy and, sorry to say, Mr. Magoo.

As it is, with Stan Van Gundy (he's the one who looks like Mr. Jeremy, in case you were wondering) and Bob Weiss both gone from their respective organization's sidelines -- the only coaches to lose their jobs so far this season -- the two coaches stomping along the floorboards in front of their own benches tonight look, well, a great deal like one another, if you want to know the truth.

Check it out; it's a little eerie the way Pat Riley and Bob Hill have similar hairstyles and dapper suits, comparable plays and like coaching styles. They even have both written their own books on coaching and success in life.

This, my friends, is no coincidence.

What is coincidence is that after departures from coaching in the NBA, both are back, leading their organizations.

Riley took over in a seemingly nefarious power play that saw Van Gundy resign and Riley step in to take over a team featuring Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade -- leaving many to wonder whether Riley would have been so keen to return to the bench if Duane Causwell and Eddie Jones were his go-to players instead.

(There is truth to both sides; Riley wanted to coach a team he knew could win, and Van Gundy did resign because he needed some family time. How much Riley forced him out, only those two know.)

Hill, out of the NBA since 1996, serendipitously stepped into a head job when Weiss, who hired Hill despite no prior relationship, was unable to parlay the unexpected success the Sonics experienced last season into another astonishing campaign.

I have to admit, I didn't know a great deal about Hill when he took over for Weiss. Few did, really, given that he has been either unemployed or languishing at Fordham University for the better part of a decade, oddly and curiously blackballed by a league that generally rewards success within the old-boy network.

But a reporter with whom I spoke, who covered the league back when Hill was the head coach in Indiana in the early '90s, said he used to refer to Hill as "Riley light," so similar did their styles appear to be.

Not that it is necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you are going to emulate somebody, it might as well be the elite, a guy who has won championships, tasted success, been through just about whatever there is to experience in the game -- not to mention benefiting financially from having the foresight to trademark the term "three-peat."

And Hill is not the only coach to imitate Riley. Rick Pitino was known to have adopted some of Riley's ways, as well.

"I learned a lot from Hubie Brown; I learned tons from Larry Brown. And then beyond that, I studied Pat," Hill says. "You know, I read his books. Actually, a guy who was in here earlier today was his assistant, and I asked him to steal me files and make copies and send them to me.

"So I have studied him really hard. He is the guy, if I have a problem -- with a screening action or a rotation or something -- I always call him. I don't pattern myself after him, I try to be my own guy, but I have learned a lot from him."

When the Sonics were in New York last week, Hill canceled a practice at a small local college, had his trainer lay down tape in the hotel ballroom in the shape of a half court and conducted practice there. Guess who has used that one in the past?

On one of Hill's first days after taking over for Weiss, he pulled from his bag a three-ring binder, perhaps four or five inches thick, with different plays for certain situations, as well as philosophies. Hill said he has 70 similar folders on his ranch in Texas. A good number of them are devoted to Riley.

Talk about leading the life of Riley.

Why Riley, Hill was asked, as opposed to Red Auerbach, Red Holzman, Phil Jackson or even Larry Brown, one of his mentors?

"I quite frankly think he is the best coach in the NBA in my life," Hill said. "I think when he took the Lakers to the Finals and won championships, it was a great team he had, but he won, so you have to give him credit.

"When you have a really good team and you win some games, people say, 'Well, gosh, he can't coach; he's got this guy, he's got that guy.' But the better team you have, the harder it is, because of the egos and being able to get everybody the right minutes and finding a system for them. But he took them to championships, and he took New York to the Finals."

So I visited with Riley on Thursday afternoon, expecting him to gush about Hill and his return to the sidelines, their relationship and his obvious effect on a man who clearly admires him. And this is what Riley had to say:

"I have great respect for Bob, and I recall when he was the head coach in Indiana, we played them in the playoffs that year. I don't know him personally, I don't have a real personal relationship with him, but I think there is a respect for one another."

Riley did say they've talked in the past about coaching philosophies, particularly about the ways to deal with players in today's league.

He also gave Hill some advice.

Hill is still angry about his departure from San Antonio, which, coincidentally, was similar to the situation in Miami this season.

At the time, Gregg Popovich was the Spurs' GM. Hill had just completed two winning seasons, including a trip to the Western finals. When David Robinson, Chuck Person and Sean Elliott all got hurt the next season, the Spurs started 3-15 and Popovich fired Hill. He got Tim Duncan the next season, and the rest is history. Spurs fans have forgotten the history because there have been three titles since. Hill has not forgotten.

"Somewhere along the way, I sort of learned in this thing, even though you think you are right, you have to settle the differences and move on," Riley said. "Life is too short in the NBA. But [Hill] may be right. The same thing happened with Doug Collins [in Chicago], but sometimes it doesn't happen for you."

Easy to say for a man whom it has happened for -- and whom many peers want to be like.

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for The (Tacoma, Wash.) News Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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