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I'm with SpoSpo: The Anti-Riley-as-coach argument, by the numbers

The news today wasn't particularly surprising. Yet to hang long-time Pat Riley associate and Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra out in the wind was still pretty jarring. It's been covered on this blog today already, so if you don't know, just go here and read the thorough recap from Surya, but long story short, Pat Riley wouldn't rule out a return to the bench if a max free agent demanded it. Now I know everyone has warm, fuzzy feeling about the idea of Pat Riley back stalking the sidelines, but I'm hear to hit you with a big bucket-full of reality. Even without all the "Jay Leno" double-timing that would have to take place, the idea of Pat Riley back as coach of the Miami Heat might not be as good as you think. In general, if a coach is not immensly successful, it's a popular move to call for that coach to be fired. If you're a fan, it's an easy way to affix blame without really attacking the athlete(s) you cherish and worship. For columnists, it's a way to show off your influence and the closest thing to hunting most in the profession would do. It's a way to put a scalp on the wall. But what never follows immediately after that call for the coach is a reasonable and well-thought-out explaination as to who should fill the vacancy. Those already in the anti-Spoelstra camp have clamored for Byron Scott for a few weeks. Do you want a coach who may wind up being an underacheiver, or do you want one who has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is? For the latter, line up behind Byron Scott. He had two great seasons a decade ago, let's get over it, shall we? Of course, the dream scenario for the Spoelstra haters has been Pat Riley swooping down out of the President's box again and returning the Heat to its rightful glory. And that's all well and good. But when you look at the results, what you're clamoring for might not be what you think. During the decade of the 2000's, Pat Riley coached six of the 10 seasons, five of them fully. In that time, despite winning an NBA Championship, he's not a .600 coach. Nor is he .550. He's not even close to .500. For the 2000s, Pat Riley's winning percentage in the regular season as a head coach was .448. For a coach with a .636 winning percentage for his career, that's a pretty large chunk of below-mediocre. All right, you'll argue that the 15-win season throws everything out of whack. That Pat Riley is clearly the best option the Miami Heat has as coach, and only by his divine providence does Erik Spoelstra serve. Let's take a look at his tenure in full, shall we? Riley has spent 10 seasons as head coach of the Miami Heat, eight in full (strike-shortened 1998-1999, took over for Stan Van Gundy in 2006). For a man who has coached 24 seasons in the NBA, he's spent the plurality of his time on the bench for Miami. In that time, he coached 849 regular-season games for the Heat. In those games, Riley won 454 and lost 395. That's a winning percentage of .535. Considering the talent Riley had over that time, and the fact that there was a championship in that period, it's a shockingly low number. Especially when you consider that with a team designed to self-destruct and constant pressure involving his job security, Erik Spoelstra has managed .549 in two seasons. .tblGenFixed td {padding:0 3px;overflow:hidden;white-space:normal;letter-spacing:0;word-spacing:0;background-color:#fff;z-index:1;border-top:0px none;border-left:0px none;border-bottom:1px solid #CCC;border-right:1px solid #CCC;} .dn {display:none} .tblGenFixed td.s0 {background-color:#FFFFFF;font-family:arial;font-size:120.0%;font-weight:normal;font-style:normal;color:#000000;text-decoration:none;text-align:center;vertical-align:bottom;white-space:nowrap;overflow:hidden;text-indent:3px;padding-left:0px;border-top:1px solid black;border-right:1px solid black;border-bottom:1px solid black;border-left:1px solid black;} .tblGenFixed td.s2 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Pat Riley with the Miami Heat

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Season G W L W-L%

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1995-96 82 42 40 0.512

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1996-97 82 61 21 0.744

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1997-98 82 55 27 0.671

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1998-99 50 33 17 0.66

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1999-00 82 52 30 0.634

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2000-01 82 50 32 0.61

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2001-02 82 36 46 0.439

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2002-03 82 25 57 0.305

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2005-06 61 41 20 0.672

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2006-07 82 44 38 0.537

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2007-08 82 15 67 0.183

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Career 849 454 395 0.53474676089517

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Courtesy Basketball-Reference.com
Of course, Spoelstra's sample size might help him. But coming off a 15-win season left by his predecessor, besting him over two 82-game seasons ain't too shabby. I don't want to sound like I'm fire-bombing Pat Riley before he even sets foot out of an office and back onto the hardwood. And I don't mean to disparage a Hall-of-Fame-worthy coach. I just enjoy sharing the opposite side of common wisdom when that common wisdom is leading to something most people wouldn't believe. And believe me, even when I started working on this post, I didn't think the numbers would be as low as they are.