Monday , Dec , 12 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Heat coaching: No Surprise

Understand, I’m not surprised. I wasn’t then and I’m not now. How could I be? No, the reaction I had when I heard now former Miami Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy was “resigning” was more along the lines of… well, perhaps I should give a proper account.

Heat coaching: No SurpriseLike any of my mornings before this one, I started with a cup of tea and something that pops out of a toaster. I groggily stumbled over to my television trying like hell (because it’s early and I’m half asleep) to keep my pop tarts from sliding off the plate. I find my remote control. My thumb slides over from power, to volume, to 1, to 4, and finally to 2; like any other morning I like to start off with some Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPNews.

Before the picture even clears up and I can already hear Greeny going off about something; prior to even piecing together his words and actually listening to what he’s saying, I’m trying to read the tone of voice. Not angry, not surprised, but, excited maybe – this is a big story.

Immediately sensing the magnitude of the situation, my eyes flash down to the lower right hand corner of my screen, instinctively searching for the familiar and always present space on the bottom line where ESPNews places late breaking news. And there I see it… Van Gundy is out.

“What the f…..”

Notice the punctuation, there is no question mark. That thought, the one so adamant it damn near lit my tongue on fire and forced my mouth open so it could make itself audible, that was a statement, not a question. I’d have to be an Amish school girl (I.E: the most naïve person on the planet) to be surprised by this.

In the instance between reading the news ticker and beginning to pay attention to Greeny’s voice, five letters, one word, a name, got printed on the front page of my mind.

Riley. Why am I not surprised?

Dan Le Betard is on Mike & Mike via phone interview and the trio seems agreed, Riley is sure to replace Van Gundy and that this resignation might as well read, <i>Friendly buy out</i>. “Who the hell would quit?!” Le Betard shouts over the phone. My sentiments exactly, Dan. At that point, nothing was quite official in terms of Van Gundy’s replacement, but it might as well have been, a matter of hours later and Pat Riley is announced as the new head coach of the Miami Heat.

I suppose in some ways my reaction was much like Mike Greenberg’s. I’m not angry, Pat Riley is one of the greatest coaches of all time and more than capable of leading the Heat; moreover, he’s the guy basically calling the shots in the organization, the man can do as he pleases. And by now I’ve made it clear none of this caught me off guard. But I’m not sure excited is the way I’d describe my feelings toward this either. More like, extremely interested.

I’m interested in, first, how the Heat as a whole will adjust to this change. At 11-10 I’m not sure a coaching change, regardless of the parties involved, is something the Heat need, or rather, something they can sustain. With all this talk of team chemistry and everyone getting accustom to playing with Shaq, a coaching switch and changes to the system, however slight they may be, might just make all of that a bit more difficult.

Second, I’m interested in how the two true superstars for the Heat will react to this change. Talk of Riley moving from the front office to the bench has been going around since the summer, or early depending on you listen to. All along, however, it’s been speculated that Shaquille O’Neal would be in favor of it, if not an instigator of it. We all know Shaq has his say in what goes on in the Miami organization (hey there Damon Jones!). Does that mean Shaq was calling for Van Gundy’s resignation? No, I doubt it. But I also doubt he’s disappointed that Van Gundy is gone and Riley has replaced him. Riley, with his rings and his place in coaching history, is exactly the kind of coach Shaq respects. Not to say that there was a lack of respect for Van Gundy, but Pat Riley is on a level that few other coaches are on.

Of course that’s just one half of the dynamic duo. How is this going to affect Dwyane Wade? Remember, Riley did coach Wade, albeit briefly during training camp of Dwyane’s rookie season. From what Wade said about his experience with Coach Riley, he was apparently given a more open, less restrictive role than with Van Gundy. Granted that was in Dwyane’s rookie season. Now it may not matter much. Wade is an elite player regardless of who is coaching him, but it will be interesting to see what little changes, if any, come about in his role and the amount of touches he’s given late in the game.

Lastly, I’m interested to see if we’ll ever get to hear Stan Van Gundy tell us why he really left. He loves his family and wants to spend more time with them, I don’t doubt that. But many people feel that way, few of them quit their job, particularly when it’s as good as Van Gundy’s was. I can’t help but wonder, despite everything Van Gundy said at his press conference, that there was a conversation where Riley said something like, “Stan, it’s time for you to step aside. I want to start coaching again.”

In October of 2003, Pat Riley resigned as head coach. And with all due respect to Stan Van Gundy, every day since then has been a count down to the day Riley stepped back into his original role. Be angry if you like, excited, or anything else. Just don’t be surprised.