Miami Heat: Erik Spoelstra and Phil Jackson had similar paths to coaching greatness

President Pat Riley of the Miami Heat (L) talks with head coach Erik Spoelstra (Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
President Pat Riley of the Miami Heat (L) talks with head coach Erik Spoelstra (Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images) /

Miami Heat head man Erik Spoelstra has had an unorthodox path to coaching relevancy. It’s eerily similar to that of the great Phil Jackson.

The Miami Heat are a special organization. They believe in doing things a certain way. They believe in recruiting certain types of people into the organization and they are steadfast in these beliefs.

This goes for the players they bring in and especially for the coaches they employ to lead the players. Often times, the Miami Heat find themselves promoting from within or making initial coaching hires from familiar trees or pools of candidates.

This could include former players of the Miami Heat’s or former players, associates, or fellow coaches of those already on the staff or in the organization. This is sort of how Erik Spoelstra worked his way up through the ranks.

He started off as one of the Miami Heat’s video coordinators in 1995 and found himself at the helm of a championship team featuring three of the greatest players ever by 2012. The way that Spo got this done was by getting in the door, impressing the right guy, continuing to impress that guy, so much so and to the point where he just had to keep promoting him.

This is eerily similar to the way that Phil Jackson was eventually promoted to the head guy in charge of the golden era of Chicago Bulls basketball. For starters, then Bulls GM Jerry Krause had an affinity for Phil Jackson. Being turned away on his first try for the assistant coaching gig, according to ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, Phil Jackson was eventually given the gig and to the pleasure of Jerry Krause.

Upon receiving the gig, Jackson proceeded to cozy up to the then-assistant coach, Tex Winter, the architect of the famed Triangle Offense. As Jackson was getting close to Winter, another situation was simultaneously brewing.

While Krause was a proponent of the “Triangle Offense” that then-assistant coach Tex Winter was famous for developing, then head coach Doug Collins was all about getting the ball in their best player’s hands, Michael Jordan. What certainly made the situation more stressful is the fact that Collins eventually banished Winter from an active coaching role.

Krause eventually got his way, firing Collins in favor of Jackson. That is how the zen master got his shot to become the guy we know him as today.

He found the guy that liked him, worked hard, impressed that same guy and so much so, that there became a point where that guy just had to give Phil the job. Jerry Krause was that guy.

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You won’t hear Jerry Krause and Pat Riley‘s names mentioned together all that often, but this is certainly one of those times. They identified something about the men they would make their guys early and they stuck with them all the way until they became the unquestioned leaders of their respective franchises. That is what I mean when I say that Erik Spoelstra and Phil Jackson had similar paths to coaching greatness.