Riley steps down as Heat coach, will be replaced by assistant Spoelstra

Updated: April 29, 2008, 12:52 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MIAMI -- On the night of his last game as an NBA head coach, Pat Riley heard the final buzzer, looked straight ahead and briskly walked away.

Deep down, he knew it was over.

"I didn't have to look back," Riley said. "I know that's behind me."

And now, after spending several days plotting the Miami Heat's next course, Riley's past becomes Erik Spoelstra's future.

The Hall of Fame coach resigned Monday, although he'll remain team president. His first act as Miami's former coach was to choose its new one, and hired Spoelstra, a 37-year-old who started in the Heat video room in 1995 and now becomes the NBA's youngest coach.

Riley sees himself in Spoelstra.

Riley was 36 when he first became a head coach, and 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."

All Riled Up

Pat Riley Pat Riley's 1,210 career regular-season victories places him among the best coaches in terms of wins in NBA history.

Lenny Wilkens 1,332
Don Nelson 1,280
Pat Riley 1,210
Jerry Sloan 1,089
Larry Brown 1,010

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.

Last year, Riley said he was committed to coaching three more seasons. Monday, he admitted he never believed that to be true.

"I am definitely sure that I don't want to do this anymore," Riley said.

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.

Unless he comes back -- he has once before -- 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.

The Erik Spoelstra File

Erik Spoelstra Erik Spoelstra, who has never been a head coach at any level outside of the NBA's summer league, has been with the Miami Heat for 13 years after starting with the franchise as a video coordinator. Here's a closer look at his career.

• 13 seasons on Heat coaching staff
• Heat assistant coach/director of scouting for the last seven seasons
• Heat summer league team coach for the last three years
• Two years as player/coach for Tus Herten (Germany)
• Played college basketball at Portland
• Former West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year

"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.

It's a tactic Riley used before. He stepped down days before the 2003-04 season began, walking into then-assistant coach Stan Van Gundy's office one morning and asking him, "You ready?"

Van Gundy remained coach for two-plus seasons, resigning 21 games into the 2005-06 campaign. Riley replaced his former protege on the bench and engineered Miami's march to the 2006 championship.

"It's a tough day, even though Pat is looking forward to retirement, it's sort of the end of an unbelievable career and his success there," Van Gundy told ESPN.com after his Magic defeated the Toronto Raptors 102-92 Monday night to win the first-round series. "But the Miami Heat hired a great basketball coach. From my selfish perspective here, I wish they would have hired somebody not so good. From a personal perspective, I like Erik very much and he's one of my best friends. I have as much respect for him as anyone in the business. I'm really happy that his hard work got rewarded."

Spoelstra has a tough task ahead. Since the title, the Heat have gone 59-105 in regular-season games, the second-biggest two-year fall by a championship team in NBA history.

Riley started his head coaching career with the 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," particularly 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."

Information from ESPN.com contributor John Denton and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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