Stan Van Gundy named new Heat coach

Updated: October 25, 2003, 9:58 AM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Pat Riley had a simple question for Stan Van Gundy: "Are you ready?"

It was early Wednesday morning, only a couple hours after Riley decided he didn't need to coach anymore. Van Gundy didn't really know how to respond.

"That conversation's taken place two or three times in last 18 months," Van Gundy said. "And it's never come to fruition. I didn't put any stock in it. I could tell he was serious, but at the same time I just sort of thought in my mind, 'Let's wait until tomorrow and see where he is with it."'

Riley resigned Friday as coach of the Miami Heat at a hastily called news conference, only four days before the team he reloaded with young but largely unproven talent opens its season. He will remain as team president; his first official order of business was hiring Van Gundy as the fifth coach in franchise history.

"I just believe that with this new team and these guys and the flexibility that we have that another voice is needed on the court," Riley said. "I'm firmly convinced about that. And I think it's Stan's voice. That's why I did this."

Riley, 58, ranks second in NBA history with 1,110 victories, and he led the Los Angeles Lakers to four championships in the 1980s. Riley won six division titles in his eight years in Miami, but only made the Eastern Conference finals once, losing to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in 1997.

But the Heat missed the playoffs the past two years, finishing at the bottom of the Atlantic Division last season at 25-57 _ Riley's worst record in 21 years as an NBA head coach.

"This organization has changed dramatically over the eight years since I've been here," Riley said. "We had one great team that was a compelling, contending team that couldn't get it done. The last three years have been patching and transitioning and getting to the point that we got to right now."

The new coach is one of many new looks the Heat will have when they open their season Tuesday at Philadelphia. A pair of newcomers, rookie guard Dwyane Wade and free agent forward Lamar Odom, will join perimeter players Caron Butler and Eddie Jones, plus veteran center Brian Grant in the projected lineup.

"I've been looking forward to the day that I could run an organization without the pressures of having to coach, too," Riley said.

Riley said he wouldn't have gone upstairs if he didn't truly believe the franchise was on solid footing. The team is beneath the salary cap, has flexibility to possibly add big-ticket free agents after this season, and has players like Butler and Odom whom Riley believes are budding superstars and worthy candidates to serve as the franchise's cornerstones for the future.

Plus, Van Gundy _ the brother of Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy _ has long been ready to take over, Riley said. But the new Heat coach was humble about following his mentor.

"I'm not going to try to be Pat Riley," he said. "I don't think it's a difference in philosophy so much as we're just different people. I'm not getting into those comparisons. I'm certainly not looking to make a lot of Pat Riley comparisons here to begin with."

Players were shocked by Riley's announcement. So was Van Gundy, who now becomes part of just the second set of brothers to coach in the NBA; Herb and Larry Brown did so in the 1970s.

Van Gundy, 44, was a college head coach for eight seasons, three at Castleton State, four at UMass-Lowell and one at Wisconsin.

Memphis Grizzlies president Jerry West, who was the Lakers' general manager during Riley's tenure there, said he was stunned by the news.

"He will be missed," West said. "As a friend, I hope this is a start to a new life that will bring home as much satisfaction to him as his enormous coaching career. He is a Hall of Fame coach, for sure, and I wish him the best."

Riley was voted one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history in 1996. His 21 seasons running NBA teams include from 1981-90 with the Lakers, 1991-95 with the New York Knicks and 1995-03 with Miami. He was the NBA's Coach of the Year in 1990, 1993 and 1997.

Riley led the "Showtime" Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the 1982, 1985 and 1987-88 league titles. With the Knicks, he had more of a defense-oriented, bruising team that lost to Houston in the 1994 NBA Finals. With the Heat, though, Riley never duplicated that sort of success.

"I'm going to manage the team that I built," Riley said. "Contrary to what people think, I'm 18 feet from that court. I'll be out there every morning at 9:30, sitting and watching. I will not interfere. I'll try not to."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press