HEAT Insider: Erik Spoelstra

On April 28, Pat Riley announced that he decided to step down as Head Coach of the Miami HEAT but will continue to serve as team President, ending a Hall of Fame coaching career. On Monday, Managing General Partner Micky Arison and Riley jointly announced that Assistant Coach/Director of Scouting Erik Spoelstra has been elevated to Head Coach. Spoelstra becomes the sixth Head Coach in franchise history. Following his introductory press conference, HEAT Insider got a chance to catch up with the HEAT’s new Head Coach:

HEAT Insider: Your father, Jon Spoelstra, is a long-time NBA executive, who spent time as General Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers. How much influence did he have on inspiring you to become a Head Coach?

Erik Spoelstra: “He’s been involved in the NBA since I was four or five years old. He didn’t necessarily introduce me to coaching directly, but indirectly he did because I was always around the game, particularly the NBA game. When he worked for the Portland Trail Blazers, I remember going to 41 home games every year. I think I was the only kid that went to every single home game. I went to all the practices. When it was convenient with my schedule, I went to all the summer practices. He kind of opened the door and stoked the fire.”

HI: Your father was an innovator in finding certain numbers and statistics in analyzing the game. Are you the same way?

ES: “To be frank, I’m many different things with this organization, but I’m a computer geek, stats and information collector. That’s my comfort level. I really find comfort in watching film and obtaining knowledge and I use statistics and computer generated stuff to help me get those stats. That was probably a result of my father’s influence on me at a young age. We’re always trying to evolve and find more efficient ways, more fluent ways to evaluate our players, evaluate our opponent and evaluate our prospects.”

HI: How did your family react when you broke the news of becoming the new HEAT Head Coach?

ES: “My parents were thrilled. My mom was beside herself – she could barely speak. My pops was very happy for me, very proud. Then he ended the conversation the way he normally does: He said, ‘Time to get to work.’”

HI: Do you have any good stories growing up in the Portland Trail Blazers organization?

ES: “Steve Colter was almost a cult figure in Portland when he played for the Trail Blazers. One time, he came over, I must have been in the 7th grade, and we played one-on-one (at my parent’s home in Portland, OR). He actually dunked on me and broke our hoop. Until this day, we still haven’t fixed the hoop. We bent it upward. It’s still there, and it’s a constant reminder of that one-on-one experience.”

HI: You and Stan Van Gundy are still good friends. Are you going to be asking him for advice because he is a guy who knows what it’s like to replace Pat Riley?

ES: “Absolutely. He’s been a huge influence on me and my career. More importantly, he’s been a great friend. I will pick his brain as much as he’ll allow me to until it gets to training camp, where I’m sure he’ll pull the plug on that. He’s been a great resource. Even now, we still talk on the phone and I’ll ask him his opinion on a lot of stuff.”

HI: How much of your personality do you have to change now that you’re Head Coach?

ES: “My voice will change a little bit, but I have to be me. I believe strongly in the culture and the way we’ve done things, particularly the kind of person we bring into the family and into the organization. I’ve done that as an assistant coach. I know the dynamic will change a little bit when I’m sitting in the head seat, but I’m going to still try to do the things that I’ve done while assisting the head coach.”

HI: How would you describe your coaching personality?

ES: “That will work itself out. I have to be true to myself, and that’s what I know for sure. I can’t try to be anybody else. That’s what I’ve done as an assistant coach. I’ve been put into a lot of positions where I had to coach. When you work for Pat Riley, you’re not just putting your hands on the basket and hanging out during practice. He puts you in positions where you have to coach. You have to be enthusiastic and fierce with your preparation and work ethic. As we move forward, I think that will all work itself out.”

HI: Will you keep the current coaching staff?

ES: “Continuity is very important to me. I have an incredible trust level with those guys; we’ve worked together for so long. It’s unique. We’ve experienced a lot of good times, a lot of bad times, a lot of wins, a lot of losses and adversity. You really get to know someone when you win, but it goes to a whole other level when you’re losing. We have a very strong bond and I know I’m going to have to lean on them quite a bit.”

HI: What are your expectations for the upcoming season?

ES: “My expectations are to get to work immediately. We’re going to try to get a core group of guys who believe in our culture and are ready to work next year at training camp. Certainly, this time next year our plan is to be playing (in the playoffs) instead of watching.”

HI: Is it easier to take over a younger team than a veteran team?

ES: “I don’t know if it’s easier; you never know when your opportunity will come to be a Head Coach, if it comes at all. Last year when Pat would make comments like, ‘Be ready,’ you kind of go down that road and put yourself in that chair. Even last summer there were times where I had to get my train of thought right. I feel like I would have been ready to take on (a veteran team) just as I’m ready to take on this team right here. I feel comfortable with the core guys coming back. They know me and I know them. There’s a trust level there already. From that standpoint, there’s a little bit of a comfort level.”

HI: You have no NBA playing experience. Do you think not having NBA playing experience will affect your relationship with the players now that you’re Head Coach?

ES: “I think the connection, the trust level and experience and my 13 years working with players matter most to them. They all want the same thing; they all want someone who can help them be successful. They’re drawn to people who want to be successful and they’re drawn to people they feel have a certain level of competence, integrity and work ethic. I feel with the core people we have and the people who know me trust my work ethic and know that I’ll be fierce with my preparation and the time and thought that I put into my job.”

HI: In an era where many coaches get fired after one year, how much pressure do you feel in your first head coaching job?

ES: “I’m just focused on the opportunity. We have a huge summer ahead of us. We have a lot of work to do. It’s a big challenge. It starts first with the draft and then free agency and then evaluating our players and so forth. I’ve seen it, but if you talk to a coach 20 years ago, they’d say it was a volatile time then. I’m not sure if there’s ever a perfect time, there’s just the time, the time when you do get the opportunity.”

HI: Will you have a voice in free agency and the draft?

ES: “I think we’re going to work together. I’m not confused by my position. I’m hired as the head coach, to coach the team. Players who are there, I’ll coach them. I will have a voice on that. Pat is still my boss. He is the leader of this franchise. He will be hand picking the guys, but we’ve had several conversations, even when I was an assistant coach, about players we want to bring in. I think I’ll have enough of a voice.”