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The why and the what’s next for Michigan after John Beilein departs for the NBA

It makes sense, even if it hurts. Now, a crossroads for Michigan basketball.

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Championship Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

John Beilein is gone.

It is a sentence that I figured we would type out eventually, but never quite like this. Michigan Basketball’s head coach, and someone who deserves a statue right next to Bo Schembechler for what he has meant to U-M Athletics, is leaving Ann Arbor to take on the challenge of turning around the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

That professional teams have shown interest in Beilein is not much of a surprise, especially given that the NBA is more of a perimeter-based game than ever before and the overtures the Detroit Pistons made to him last offseason. That may have been a bit easier to swallow given that he would potentially still be somewhat staying home, but once he returned to Michigan, I think both he and everyone thought he was meant to finish his career there.

How quickly things can change in a year.

So why Cleveland? The Cavs are assured one of the top picks in the draft and a piece to build around (potentially even Zion Williamson) after finishing 19-63 this season. They have a promising young guard in Colin Sexton, who will no doubt benefit from Beilein’s presence.

The fact of the matter is that Beilein wanted to go and the opportunity lines up perfectly for him, as he does not have to move his wife too terribly far from Ann Arbor, he gets to work for an organization that includes one of his former players in a prominent front office role and he gets to put his culture stamp on an organization on the rebuild. Will he be the coach there if/when the Cavaliers are a factor again? Probably not, but he has coached basketball at every level of the game and this was one final box to check. He has earned the right to go after whatever he wants with what he has done with Michigan. The biggest stunner is the timing of it all, as it came out of nowhere, and who it is.

It has not exactly been a banner calendar year for Michigan coaches bolting for the state of Ohio.

There should not be any ill-will towards Beilein over this, and in a lot of ways now is the logical time for a reboot given his opportunity and his former team’s outlook for next season. Not a lot of people expected all of Charles Matthews, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole to go pro, but once all of them left, a step back for Michigan hoops looks a bit inevitable for 2019-20. That is not him running away from it, but it feels like a good place to close the book on the Beilein era.

The reports are out there that he has become a bit disenfranchised with the state of college basketball, the ability to retain players and the new NBA Draft rules. It is hard to fault him for that and because he ran such a clean program, it is understandable that it would be frustrating to not only fight an uphill battle on the recruiting trail, but also have to scramble late in the spring when guys you expected to be contributors moving forward go pro.

It stinks they were never able to win a National Championship, but because Beilein (and really Tom Izzo in this state, as well) have made it look so easy going on deep tournament runs, we take for granted how difficult it is to get there. Michigan Basketball was a laughingstock before Beilein came in and be built it from table scraps into a legitimate top-15 program in the country and someone who, if this next hire goes correctly, has a shot to stay there for a bit.

Which leads us to the what is next for the Wolverines. Warde Manuel, Michigan’s Athletic Director, gets his first shot to hire a coach in one of the two major sports, but this will not be as easy as firing the money cannons and hoping people come. We are a little late into the spring, with coaches already setting their summer plans and the hiring process for a lot of programs in the rearview mirror.

As unlikely as it may be, you simply have to make the phone calls to the pipe dream candidates like Jay Wright, Tony Bennett, Brad Stevens, Billy Donovan, etc. Make them your best offer and let them tell you no. To expect a big fish is not realistic from a fan point of view perhaps, but Michigan has the resources to swing big and they absolutely should.

They really do not have much to lose in that regard, as the “fallback” options are still solid. If we are going off of gut feelings here, we could very well be looking at a situation where Saddi Washington or Luke Yaklich are elevated to head coach. It would probably be Washington with a nice pay raise for Yaklich, but that is an option that is very much in play if they want to continue to roll with the culture and program that has been built. They might be able to pry Lavall Jordan away from Butler, but it may take a hefty pay day to get him away from his alma mater. That said, it’s Michigan and it is the Big Ten.

Nobody expected this job to come open, and there might be guys out there that you would not think would be interested who at the very least might take an interview. Again, it depends on the resources that Manuel decide they are willing to allocate to the program. With all they have given and delivered, it had better be a willingness to pay top dollar if that is what it takes.

Michigan has incredible facilities and a basketball program that does not exactly have the huge fan expectations that other elite programs have (and make no mistake about it, what Beilein built was an elite program). Good programs have to be run by good coaches and while plugging and elevating names into the same role is not a terrible idea, hopefully this is a search that has every stone turned over in it.

There is no replacing Beilein or copying what he was able to do. Any attempt to do so many result in us being in this same exact spot a few years from now. If a new voice and new direction is what is best for the job, so be it. They have the ability to make a splash hire if one becomes realistic, but we should temper expectations early on and see how the process opens up and go from there.