Former Michigan basketball head coach John Beilein left the program last May out of the blue, accepting an offer to become the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach.
On its surface, taking the job made sense for the then 66 year old, he checked just about every accomplishment box at the NCAA level, and how many more opportunities would he get to coach an NBA team?
Last May I wrote “if you type in the words “dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers” on Google, 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?” The answer to those questions are no and no. I went on to say “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,” and things proved to be no different this time around for the Cavs front office decision makers.
Even with Cleveland having low expectations and a bottom of the barrel roster heading into the season, even with the front office knowing Beilein was an old school coach that has a particular way of doing things, it didn’t stop the friction that led to Beilein and Cleveland parting ways.
Beilein never received the amount of respect from players necessary to succeed, nor did he receive enough backing from the higher ups throughout the season when reports of Beilein’s demise would surface.
The Cavaliers had the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 14-40, but is less than one season with a bad roster enough time to evaluate whether a coach is a good or bad fit for the franchise?
Leftovers from the Lebron era, such as Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love, publicly butted heads with Beilein. However, some franchises would trade away the veteran troublemakers unhappy with being on a bad team. Instead, the Cavs opted to hold onto Love and Thompson instead of getting valuable draft picks and young players to help rebuild the franchise.
Tristan Thompson and Cavs head coach, John Beilein got into it in the bench pic.twitter.com/12eunpO8O3— Nitrogen Sports (@NitrogenSports) December 13, 2019
Kevin Love throws the ball in anger and John Beilein takes him out immediately. pic.twitter.com/FKlFgBFQQG— ContentNBA (@ContentNBA) January 5, 2020
Beilein doesn’t get let off the hook completely, though. He had trouble relating to NBA players, he called them “thugs” during a film session, subsequently apologized and said he meant to say “slugs”. This caused players to troll Beilein by playing songs in the locker room with the word “thug” in it.
“Friends and associates of Beilein have described him as unhappy — even miserable — with the move to the Cavaliers,” Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier this week. “The losing that comes with a rebuild, as well as several skirmishes in public and private with players, has played a part in the rapid deterioration of tenure.”
Some of the wounds Beilein endured in Cleveland were self inflicted, while others were out of his control. He knew he would be part of a rebuild, but he didn’t expect public spats with players, something that wasn’t the norm during his time at Michigan.
In early December, a report by The Athletic had a quote from an unnamed player, saying the team was drowning out Beilein’s voice. The report was lengthy, ugly, and showed some players on the team weren’t even giving the first year NBA coach a chance. The report didn’t sit well with Tristan Thompson, who despite his differences with Beilein, came to his defense. “If you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that chatty patty s*** going on.,” Thompson said. “That s*** is wack to me. Everyone’s got to look in the mirror. There’s only so much coach can do and there’s only so much we can do.”
The type of leaks from players and front office execs doomed any chance Beilein had of building a culture and family, and the leaks along with what was said in them surely are a reason Beilein was miserable in Cleveland. Beilein very well may have been a bad fit in the NBA, but he went to a bad and dysfunctional organization that drastically decreased his chances of having any success. Sure, John Beilein is old school, he’s a college coach at heart, and maybe he never would have panned out as an NBA head coach, but he deserved better during his tenure as Cavaliers head coach.