We just finished ranking the top five players in Miami Heat history at every position. You can find all of those on our home page, and now we turn our attention to the top coaches in team history.
The Heat have had six different head coaches in their history. And if you think the 36 games of Alvin Gentry in 1995 should be on here, then I’m sorry. But these are the top five — how you rank them can be a matter of debate, and so let’s talk about it.
#5 — Ron Rothstein
The first ever Heat head coach lasted three years. And his numbers were not impressive, but they were also an expansion team with limited assets. Rothstein’s love comes from his longtime broadcasting career alongside Eric Reid that just ended last season. As a coach, he survived.
#4 — Kevin Loughery
Maybe some don’t remember him, but he led the Heat to their first ever post-season. He coached 292 games and had a .455 win percentage. From 1991-1995, Loughery led with Glen Rice, Steve Smith, Rony Seikaly, and others.
#3 — Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy got a raw deal, let’s just go ahead and say that. I’ll put it like this, he coached the Heat for only two seasons (plus a small fraction of a third) — and it was the start of Wade’s career.
Van Gundy has the highest win percentage of any Heat coach for both the regular season (.605) and playoffs (.607). Van Gundy led the Heat to the second round his first year, and then to a Conference Finals Game 7 his second year...and many of us would argue that he would have won that series against the Pistons had Wade not gotten injured.
Stan was let go (and/or left) at the beginning of the 2005 season when the newly assembled roster got off to a rocky start, and Heat President Pat Riley took over. SVG is a good guy and a good coach who got the short stick in Miami, but it’s what needed to happen.
***Preface for the following***
I am very torn on placing the last two. I had a nice debate with our Side Editor, Surya Fernandez and Senior Writer, Brandon Di Perno about this. My argument is based solely on their tenure coaching the Heat (nothing to do with past coaching experience and team President responsibilities).
#2 — Pat Riley
Yes, Pat Riley is one of the greatest coaches of all-time, and so to place him as the second best coach in Heat history may feel like a slight. But let me give you some statistics. Riley had two coaching stints with the Heat. First, from 1995-2003. He had a .567 winning percentage, and even won NBA Coach of the Year in 1997. Riley introduced and created the culture that Miami now has. We owe everything to his leadership.
But as far as coaching the team to success, Riley made one conference final in his first stint, and actually had a losing record in the playoffs at 10-13 in that span as well as losing four out of six in the first round — not screaming excellency.
Clearly, in his second stint, he led the Heat to the 2006 title, and followed that up with a first round sweep and then the worst record in the NBA in 2007-08. A title winner, but in Miami he wasn’t an overachiever as far as coaching.
Surya Fernandez on Pat Riley...
“Riley set the tone for the direction of the franchise upon his arrival 25 years ago and his focus on building a culture with a consistent vision has been emulated throughout the NBA since. Right from the start, he was able to construct and groom contending teams (something fellow expansion teams have yet to do) and he won Coach of the Year honors in just his second Heat season before leading them to their first title in 2006.”
#1 — Erik Spoelstra
Spo on the other hand has a different resume. And yes, I recognize that he also had LeBron James during his coaching time. Spo has coached 886 games (most all-time for Miami) and has a .590 winning percentage. He also boasts a .602 winning percentage in the playoffs and has more playoff wins that all other Heat coaches combined (think about that for a moment).
He has two championships under his belt in 2012 and 2013 as a head coach (was also a part of 2006 as an assistant). Spoelstra, in my opinion, has a lot more success as a coach while coaching the Heat than Pat Riley. You can make the argument of rosters and that’s fine...but those things aren’t under my control. Riley desires a ton of credit as team president and has been fantastic in that role.
But I am under the opinion that in regards to success, Spo is the top coach in Heat history.
Brandon Di Perno on Erik Spoelstra...
“There’s no doubt that Spoelstra was the right choice to replace Riley as head coach. He’s taken a culture of excellence and expanded it for over a decade (since 08). He directed a team of stars to four straight Finals, ushered in the “small-ball” revolution and kept the Heat competitive in the post LeBron and Wade years. While us as fans might question his rotation choices, it’s really hard to sit there and say he’s not the Heat’s best coach. He already has the most wins in franchise history and somehow it feels like he’s just getting started.”
And I know I am going to hear it from some of you...and honestly you might be right and provide a different perspective. You can’t argue the facts...but you can argue it from another angle.
What do you think? And do you think Alvin Gentry got snubbed?