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,
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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."