The Michigan basketball program received a punch in the gut on Monday morning when head coach John Beilein left to become the next coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Beilein brought stability to the program, he turned it into one of the best in the nation. Now the program will have to look elsewhere for a captain to lead their ship to new lands.
The news came out of nowhere, but at the same time it’s not all that surprising. Last season Beilein was a finalist for the Detroit Pistons head coaching job but didn’t land it. And apparently another NBA opportunity presented itself and this time Beilein aced the interview.
Beilein will be a 66 year old first time NBA head coach. The reasoning for Beilein heading to Cleveland is pretty simple; he wanted to coach in the NBA and time is running out on getting a NBA head coaching job.
Heading to Cleveland is still a bit of a head-scratcher, as they were just 19-63 this past season. Records like that don’t matter much to guys like Beilein who always bet on themselves and their coaching prowess to turn a team around. However, this is the top-heavy NBA, which is a whole heck of a lot different than college and the NCAA Tournament that propels teams to prominence that no one would ever give a legitimate shot at winning a championship. Cleveland stinks right now. They’ve been bad a long time when a guy named Lebron James isn’t playing for them.
Cleveland is a dysfunctional franchise, and the dysfunction starts at the top. Owner Dan Gilbert has been responsible for the bad, and not much of the good. Gilbert allowed Kyrie Irving to be traded for next to nothing. Gilbert didn’t sign off on bolstering the Cavaliers roster during Lebron James second stint in Cleveland enough, not enough to legitimately compete with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Gilbert butted heads with Lebron more than he ever worked cohesively with him. Yes, they won an NBA Championship a few years ago, but that was due to a historic performance from Lebron.
Gilbert has always been reluctant to spend enough to make the Cavs roster rock solid from top to bottom. They’ll have a couple good players, and then the rest of the roster is filled with players that are past their prime or just aren’t skilled enough. Gilbert also has a track record of being impatient with coaches when they can’t deliver playoff appearances immediately, even when these coaches were given bottom of the barrel rosters to work with.
Even how the Cavs ultimately decided to hire Beilein was a long and winding road. A month ago, the disgraced former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was an option for Cleveland. Gilbert spoke with Pitino last month about the gig. Pitino and Beilein are polar opposites. Beilein is a class-act, a by the book guy, a coach who ran one of the cleanest programs in all of college sports. Pitino is not a class act, his programs break rules and engage in a variety of behaviors that lack the decency of a Beilein led program.
Comparing Pitino and Beilein is worth doing here, because it shows that Gilbert didn’t have a specific type of coach in mind during the hiring process. You cannot go from interviewing Pitino to interviewing Beilein and have the same prerequisites at the start of a coaching search.
If you type in the words “dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers” , there will be hours of reading material at your disposal. Can Beilein survive this type of environment? Can he change the environment like he did at Michigan?
Beilein is betting on being able to create a new culture in Cleveland. The Cavaliers franchise is a bad one right now in the NBA, their roster needs a serious overhaul, and the young players they bring in will need to be coached up to the utmost degree. It’s going to be a big challenge for Beilein to turn Cleveland into a winner and finish a season above .500.
Beilein doesn’t really have anything else left to prove, he’s accomplished incredible things and getting an NBA head coaching job is a great accomplishment in itself. However, the goal for Beilein is to win, not to just be a developmental coach that will be able to get his players better by the time he is fired or retired. The Cavs have a track record of giving coaches the hook when they don’t win fast, and there’s no reason to think things will be any different with Beilein at the helm. Sure, it’s a five-year deal for Beilein, but the Cavaliers have fired two coaches in the last five years before their contract was up.
If Beilein is able to turn Cleveland into a contender, it very well could be his greatest feat to this point in his career, but man, that’s a tall order. Today is a happy day for coach Beilein, and for Cavaliers fans, but it’s realistic to think that things won’t end well for Mr. Beilein in Cleveland. With that said, I hope he proves my rationale wrong and wins plenty of games for the Cavs.
Beilein finished his Michigan career with a 278-150 record and two national championship game appearances. He did just about everything a coach could do in college basketball except win the big one. If Beilein stayed at Michigan he would have continued to be a beloved figure and would have added on to his win totals and had a good shot at getting back to the National Championship. He would have been able to ride off into the sunset so to speak, the goodbyes wouldn’t have been as rushed as they were when it was abruptly reported that he would be taking the NBA gig.
There was a level of security for Beilein at Michigan that he will not have in Cleveland. Just about everything is uncertain going forward. Beilein will roll with the uncertainty, he will be energized for the new challenges ahead, and only time will tell how things shake out for him in Ohio.
What do you think of Beilein heading to Cleveland?— Trevor Woods (@WoodsFootball) May 13, 2019