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John Beilein: Speaking Softly, and Carrying a Big Stick

Belien’s quiet demeanor and his team’s emphatic style have the Wolverines peaking at the right time

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Michigan Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Writer’s note: I re-wrote the working introduction to this article no less than 5 times before settling on this:

John Beilein is awesome.

There, I’m not going to dance around, or throw in a metaphor, or come up with an anecdote. He’s just awesome, and any qualifier you put on that needs to be removed before whatever you have to say comes next, okay?

The two things most talked about when discussing Beilein at the national level are that 1) he’s an offensive genius and 2) he’s a world class human. We all know both of those to be true. While you get moments of fire, the Wolverines’ most accomplished currently-tenured Head Coach is better known for his patience, his calm, and his incredibly long list of good works off the court.

When President Theodore Roosevelt uttered his famous quip “speak softly and carry a big stick,” what he meant was that leadership should be calm, composed, and targeted. The idea is that in politics or foreign policy, similar to basketball, is that you want to carry yourself with a certain level of poised confidence. For Roosevelt, that meant to enter into foreign policy deliberations with the intent of peace and working through the issues like a tactician. Beilein, a fellow tactician, is revered almost universally for his approach to the game and characterization of these traits. He doesn’t talk unnecessarily, create conflict where there need be none, or stir controversy where there isn’t.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Michigan Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

But Roosevelt understood, that in those most pressing times, you need a big damn stick. You need a boisterous, emphatic, and doubt-erasing hammer to drop, and this is where Michigan’s on-court personas have flourished. Beilein’s system is a matrix of back-door cuts, on-ball screens, and kick out threes, providing those big moment players, those “legends of March” a chance to shine, to be that hammer... or stick if we’re still with Roosevelt’s mantra.

In the last few years, they’ve had Burke, Walton, and now Wagner as the loud and excitable star, capable of taking over Michigan’s biggest games. Wagner may be the most explicit example of this metaphor: he talks trash, celebrates every big shot, and spends a good portion of dead-ball plays either cheering with jeering against the home crowd, depending on the locale. He is the very definition of a “big damn stick.”

It’s more than the star though, it’s the team around him. In ‘13 it was Hardaway, Robinson, and Stauskas dunking on fools and throwing the 3-goggles in everyone’s eye. This year, it’s a mix of Poole, Livers, and Simpson making the gritty plays. It’s the immortal Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews getting air-born, draining the big threes, and letting their opponents know that the Wolverines are clowning, and that they’re the joke. See Michigan State’s Nick Ward, who is the absolute funniest punch line in college basketball.

Michigan has a week and a half off until their next game, which will be played on either March 15th or 16th. The other conference tournaments have yet to kick-off, and we won’t know the Wolverines’ seeding or game-location until this coming Sunday. But one thing is for sure; you can count on coach Beilein to speak softly, but know that he’s always carrying his big damn stick.