Beilein Rescued WVU Basketball; Can He Do The Same For The Cavs?
Maybe you had to be there to understand just what John Beilein did for West Virginia basketball back in 2002 when he showed up on the scene.
Think of one of old silent movies, you know, like “The Perils of Pauline,” our heroine tied to the railroad track, the steam locomotive bearing down upon her until our hero rushes up and tosses the switch to turn the train onto a different track.
That’s how it was with West Virginia basketball then, and Beilein came to rescue.
He did the same thing after he left WVU, going to Michigan where the situation wasn’t as bleak as the one he stumbled into at West Virginia but where, nonetheless, the luster had been worn off the great Wolverine tradition.
He restored that, too, but everyone assumed, at 66, it was his last stop.
Then this week the Cleveland Cavaliers came calling. You remember them when they had LeBron James and were NBA champions? Well, LeBron left and this year they had tied Phoenix for the second-worst record in the league at 19-63.
Sounds like a job for John Beilein.
Let’s go back for a moment to the situation Beilein walked into at WVU. Gale Catlett had come to the end his long reign in a most undistinguished way, his final year compiling an 8-20 record, 1-15 in the Big East (and that win belonged to Drew Catlett, not Gale, who was out ill for that game.)
A once-proud program had come apart and the situation was worse than anyone imagined for there was an investigation into freshman Jonathan Hargett, who was supposed to lead Catlett to one more moment of glory.
With great fanfare, athletic director Ed Pastilong brought in Dan Dakich, announced his hiring at a Coliseum pep rally, then stood by in shock when Dakich found some things he didn’t like involving NCAA rules violations and left after just six days on the job.
Beilein, who had started his coaching career at LeMoyne after having attended Wheeling Jesuit, took the job despite all the warning signs after a successful stint at Richmond.
He came in armed with his roach spray and went to work immediately went to work on installing not only his basketball system but his line of morality.
Beilein inherited a tall, gangly 6-foot-11 kid out of Martinsburg named Pittsnogle who would change WVU basketball forever with his three-point shooting and immediately began restructuring WVU basketball.
That first season in 2003 he brought in not only Kevin Pittsnogle, but Johannes Hebert, J.D. Collins and a freshman whom he has been recruiting his whole life, his son, Patrick Beilein, who is now making a name for himself coaching at Niagara.
Over the next few years Beilein would give a transfusion of talent to WVU that included Da’Sean Butler, Frank Young, Joe Mazzulla, Joe Alexander, Alex Ruoff, Darris Nichols, Wellington Smith and Mike Gansey, who is assistant general manager in Cleveland now.
The first year was a challenge at 14-15, but that was somewhat deceiving for among his 15 losses were seven by four points or fewer — at Duquesne by 4, at UNLV by 3, twice to Georgetown by 2, by a point to Notre Dame and by 3 and 4 points to Seton Hall.
He was that close and knew it, turning the program from one that went 73-74 in Catlett’s final five years (49-65 in the last four years and 19-47 in Big East play over that span) to a team that 104-60 under him.
When he left for Michigan, the same year football coach Rich Rodriguez left but in a far more admirable way, he left Bob Huggins with a program that was bursting with pride and talent, Huggins winning 26 games in his first season.
Michigan proved to be another reclamation program. He replaced Tommy Amaker, who in six years had a 109-83 record but had failed to win a Big Ten title. Beilein turned that .568 winning percentage into a .650 percentage over his 12 years, including two trips to the Final Four.
He lost in the Finals to Villanova two years ago but this year suffered a humiliating defeat in NCAAs to eventual finalist Texas Tech, 63-44, a bitter memory to leave Michigan fans with.
Michigan was supposed to be his last rebuilding job, though. He said just that in 2014 before he was matched up against the Mountaineers in Brooklyn.
“I love rebuilding programs, (I wanted to) do one more. And the University of Michigan ended up being that choice,” he said when asked why he left WVU.
One more, that’s what he said.
“There is no other one,” he added. “There is no other one. It’s been a great journey so far to have been a bit of a nomadic coach and change (jobs) several times.
“But there is a time when you say, ‘OK, I really want to stay with this one and make the most of it.’ “
The lure of the NBA was too much, though. No matter how you want to put it, the only challenge Beilein really has left is the NBA.
He almost went to the Detroit Pistons last year after the Villanova loss in the Finals but opted to stay at Michigan. He figured that was it, but when the opportunity presented itself again he was hooked.
What’s more, he well may wind up finding himself coaching Duke’s Zion Williamson should they win the NBA lottery one Wednesday night … or maybe even more fitting to his offense, Ja Morant of Murray State.
Beilein’s move to the NBA is intriguing for the NBA didn’t often dabble in college coaches and, when they did, it wasn’t particularly successful.
If you don’t believe that, ask Rick Pitino.
Anyway, in 2013 Brad Stephens went from Butler to the Boston Celtics and has proved himself capable of creating a playoff team, even if he did have some problems figuring out how to win with Kylie Irving.
Beilein’s style seems to fit the direction the NBA is moving toward and, considering he’s known nothing but success there’s no reason to believe this will be any different.