<
>

Riley to return as coach of defending champ Heat

8/26/2006 - Miami Heat

MIAMI -- Pat Riley decided against quitting on top.

He'd rather try to stay there another year.

Riley said Wednesday he'll return as coach of the NBA champion
Miami Heat, ending speculation he might retire at age 61. He'll be
on the sideline when the title banner is raised at the season
opener Oct. 31 against the Chicago Bulls.

"After winning the championship, I realized there's always
something meaningful that happens in your life that becomes the
primary point of your destiny," Riley said in a statement.
"Winning the championship showed me that I am definitely in the
right place, at the right time, with the right people. I can't wait
to get started."

Riley won his seventh league title last season as a player or
coach, returning to the bench in December to lead the Heat to their
first championship. There have been no defections this summer from
his team's eight-man rotation, although free-agent guard Gary Payton remains unsigned.

"We've got most of our core guys back, and now we have the
coach," said center Alonzo Mourning, who re-signed last week. "I
think it's only fitting that he comes back so we can all defend the
title together."

Riley left Miami on Wednesday to fly to Japan for the FIBA World
Championship and was unavailable to the media, the Heat said. He
last talked to reporters June 23, the day of the team's
championship parade.

"I'me very excited," NBA finals MVP Dwyane Wade said from Japan. "I couldn't see anyone else being the leader of our team coming into next season, especially after winning the championship. So it just fits, the idea that right now our whole team is pretty much coming back. We're excited about that."

As recently as Monday, center Shaquille O'Neal expressed concern
about Riley's status.

"Yeah, it's an issue," O'Neal told NBA.com at a charity golf
event in the New York area sponsored by Mourning.

Riley, who is also Heat president, returned as coach Dec. 12
when Stan Van Gundy resigned for personal reasons. Miami went 41-20
under Riley during the regular season, then beat Chicago, New
Jersey, Detroit and Dallas in the playoffs.

The title provided vindication for Riley, widely questioned
after shaking up the roster a year ago and then replacing Van
Gundy.

"Coach made this championship happen. He built it and made us
all believe," forward James Posey said this summer. "You could
tell how much he wanted this one."

Riley found the season draining physically and emotionally. He
postponed hip-replacement surgery to resume coaching and limped at
times in the ensuing months. Early in the playoffs, his 96-year-old
mother, Mary, died near his hometown of Schenectady, N.Y.

It was Riley's fifth NBA title as a head coach but his first
since taking the "Showtime"-era Los Angeles Lakers to the 1988
title. He won one title as a player and another as an assistant
coach.

"I'd give up six championships," a champagne-soaked Riley said
in the din of the victory celebration in Dallas, "to get this
one."

Riley is second to Lenny Wilkens with 1,322 coaching victories,
including 171 in the postseason. He stepped down as Heat coach
shortly before the 2003-04 season and was replaced by Van Gundy,
who remains under contract with the organization.

Almost from the moment Riley returned as coach, there was a
question of whether he'd keep the job in 2006-07. He signed an
extension announced Jan. 1, but the team never clarified whether it
was related to his role as president, coach or a combination of the
two.

Soon after the extension was announced, Riley said he "probably
would not" be back as coach, only to issue a terse statement in
mid-April vowing to return, quashing a rumor that he had already
chosen Jim O'Brien as his successor.

When the title was won, Riley changed the answer again, saying
only that he couldn't decide whether to continue.

"Don't ask me that," Riley said. "Please. ... I can't answer
that right now."

The answer came Wednesday, less than six weeks before practice
begins Oct. 3.