Heat coach Van Gundy resigns; Riley returns
MIAMI -- Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy walked off the dais together Monday, then went in opposite directions.
Riley packed his tailored suits and headed back to the NBA sidelines, looking to add another entry to his long and glowing coaching resume. Van Gundy simply went home.
Months after he said he wanted to reclaim more of a hands-on role with the team -- a comment that prompted rampant speculation he was about to fire his former protege -- Riley returned to the business of coaching. Van Gundy quit to spend more time with his family, and will stay with the team in a limited capacity.
"I was happy for him when I hired him 11 years ago," Riley said. "I was happy for him when I stepped aside and gave him an opportunity that was well-deserved. And I am happy for him today, absolutely."
The 60-year-old Riley said he hasn't looked at a playbook in two years. He's probably doing that right now for Tuesday night's game in Chicago.
"I think I know my way around a 94-by-50 court," Riley said. "I know what the hell I'm doing when I'm out there. But right now, I'm a little bit lost. So I'm going to depend a lot on the staff that we have presently. But no, I really wasn't thinking about replacements."
|Wojnarowski on Riley|
Adrian Wojnarowski wrote about the potential Heat coaching change in July:
Pat Riley needs to stop framing this as some noble return to his passion, and tell the truth. His ego could never stay in the background and let Stan Van Gundy get the shot at bringing that championship parade to the shores of Biscayne Bay.
Suddenly, coaching the Heat is a glamour job again, and Riley's ego would never let him sit that out. If Riley will want to insist this was a hard choice based purely on the best chance for a championship, or finding the best coach for the job, ancient NBA history backs him. It's just that modern history doesn't. Across the past two seasons, almost no one in the league has coached better than Van Gundy. I'll give you Larry Brown, but no one else.
What the Heat had was the rarest of strong management structures, under which the chain of command set everything in motion for a finely tuned winning machine. If this was truly about winning it all, Riley would've understood that all his Heat needed in the playoffs was to stay healthy, not a new coach.
More ESPN.com opinion:
• Ric Bucher in August:
• Chris Broussard in September: Is Riley really the answer?
• John Hollinger in September: Heat's biggest questions
• Marc Stein in November:
Riley said he spent the last six weeks trying to persuade Van Gundy to stay, and his former top assistant insisted his decision was voluntary. Players, who were not available for comment because they were traveling, were told Monday morning.
Van Gundy's job security has been scrutinized since the Heat lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to Detroit at home last June -- a game where Miami's superstars, Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, were both injured.
The Heat entered the season with big ambitions, but they are just 11-10, although Miami has been hit by injuries, including a sprained ankle that sidelined O'Neal for all but three of those games.
"If I'm getting forced out, I would have gotten absolutely every dollar on my contract and walked out the door," Van Gundy said. "That's not what happened here. ... Anybody who's speculating otherwise has to do so in total disregard of the facts of the situation."
Riley came to the Heat in 1995 after winning four titles with the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, followed by a stint with the Knicks. He has won 1,110 games in 21 seasons, the third-highest victory total in NBA history.
Van Gundy has always professed to being a family-first man, someone who abhors road trips and the idea of spending holidays away from his wife and four children. He said that because of travel, games and practices, he would have seen his children at home only 49 days out of 170 this season.
"That's just not enough any more for me. It's just not enough," Van Gundy said. "I mean, it's been like that for my kids' entire lives. I've got a 14-year-old daughter and it started to hit me when I started thinking about her birthday, which was last month. I've got four more years left with her. Four. And then she'll be off to college and I'm just not willing to sacrifice any more of those four more years."
Van Gundy said he began wrestling with the balance between job and family during the preseason, and told Riley after the regular-season opener at Memphis that they needed to talk about the future.
"I can't believe people have that big a problem actually believing that someone would actually want to spend time with their family," Van Gundy said. "I don't know why that's so hard for people to buy into."
Riley resigned as Heat coach shortly before the 2003-04 season, walking into Van Gundy's office one morning and asking his top assistant, "You ready?" Van Gundy went 42-40 in his first season, then 59-23 last year when Miami was the No. 1 seed for the East playoffs.
The team underwent a major roster shakeup this offseason, with Riley saying he was building a team to win a title now. Eddie Jones, Damon Jones and Rasual Butler were among those moving on; Riley brought in Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey, among others, to replace them.
And winning respect of the players won't be a difficult chore for Riley. Most of them call him "Coach" already, and O'Neal commonly refers to him as "the great Pat Riley."
That's why he has no qualms about taking over, even if he truly wanted Van Gundy to stay.
"I have a responsibility to this team and to the players that I traded for, the picks," Riley said. "And I think right now, at this moment, that I'm the best person to do that."
The move came nearly four years to the day after Jeff Van Gundy, Stan's younger brother, resigned as Knicks coach 19 games into the 2001-02 season. Jeff Van Gundy, now the Houston Rockets coach, said at the time he'd lost his focus and thought about quitting since that summer.
"The question I've always had for him is, 'why did you go back,'" Stan Van Gundy said.
He also had the same question for Riley during a recent meeting they had at his Malibu, Calif., home. Riley flew out during a recent Heat road trip, bringing Van Gundy over for a final pitch to keep him as coach.
Instead, the talk only strengthened Van Gundy's belief that leaving was the right idea.
"I regret the timing," Van Gundy said. "I think that for the team, it stinks. The timing of it stinks. And I wish that I could have made the decision in the offseason, but in the offseason, you don't feel like this."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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