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's 1,210 career regular-season victories places him among the best coaches in terms of wins in NBA history.
Lenny Wilkins 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, 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."
Also this article by Chris Sheridan speculating on what may be nxt for Riles...
Does he mean it this time?
Pat Riley certainly appeared sincere, and certainly sounded sincere, when he stood at the podium in Miami on Monday afternoon and declared himself "officially retired" and handed over the Heat's head coaching reins to Erik Spoelstra.
Problem is, the 63-year-old Riley sounded equally sincere last summer when he said he planned to serve out the final three years of his coaching contract.
Pat Riley hands over the Heat bench duties to his anointed successor, Erik Spoelstra.
He often says one thing about his intentions but ends up going in a different direction, so we can't help but take the finality of his farewell address with a grain of salt.
"I'm officially retired. Is that good enough?" Riley replied when asked if he was totally, completely shutting the door on a possible return to coaching, sometime or somewhere down the road.
Then Riley let out one of those nervous chuckles that were a constant throughout his 30-minute news conference, a chuckle that Riley had to let out because even he knows the inherent absurdity of taking anything he says as an absolute.
Riley let out a similar laugh back in early October when I spent a couple days in Miami covering the Heat's training camp. I asked him why he had made the public three-year commitment to continuing as coach, and he explained it was his way of keeping the question of his future from arising at different times over the course of the season.
Times change and minds change in the NBA, and there's no telling where Riley's body or mind will be two years from now when his contract as team president expires.
If Heat owner Micky Arison were to decide to sell the team, would Riley want to continue as president?
And if he left the franchise for whatever reason two or three years from now, would he still feel the same as he does today about never again being a head coach?
"You get to the point as a man where you just don't want to do something anymore," Riley said in explaining his decision. "My very best wasn't there like it was before."
So the job now goes to Spoelstra, a 37-year-old Heat and Riley loyalist who spent 13 years in the organization beginning as a video coordinator. Riley indicated nearly two years ago that he was grooming Spoelstra to be his successor after watching him spend more than a decade doing the coaching dirty work of breaking down film, conducting walkthroughs, writing up game plans on grease boards and devoting countless hours to player development.
"I am a product of the Miami Heat culture," Spoelstra said.
That culture is one that reveres and rewards loyalty, although there have been times when one person's loyalty has been trumped by another man's ego and ambition.
Stan Van Gundy was in a situation similar to Spoelstra's five years ago when Riley unexpectedly announced his retirement from coaching four days before the start of the 2003-04 season. Riley handed the job to Van Gundy, the older brother of another longtime Riley loyalist, Jeff, who was so enamored of his one-time boss that he bestowed the middle name "Riley" on one of his daughters.
Jeff Van Gundy and Riley eventually had a falling out, and it was Stan Van Gundy who was in Riley's way when he decided late in 2005 that he wanted to get back on the bench. Stan Van Gundy got $1 million tacked on to his contract to ease his sudden ouster.
Now, we're not saying Spoelstra is going to be similarly moved aside a couple of years down the road when Riley has finished rebuilding the roster and suddenly decides at age 65 or 66 that maybe he shouldn't have been quite so definitive back in the spring of '08.
But you still have to wonder where the road will lead for Riley from here, because you can never fully believe the guy when he says he's really, truly finished. His own track record won't allow it.