It’s not unusual for college coaches to dream about making it to the highest echelons of the sport. Most coaches, if given the chance, would gladly take the extra money and lifestyle associated with an NBA job. Tom Izzo has spurned the pros and announced that he’ll be a “lifer” at Michigan State, and Bob Knight once said, “If the NBA was on channel five and a bunch of frogs making love were on channel four, I’d watch the frogs, even if they were coming in fuzzy.” But they are the exceptions. Hell, even Brad Stevens, whom many considered to be the consummate college coach, left Butler for the Celtics. That announcement was a shock at the time, and Beilein’s departure is, too.
I’ve been a fan of Beilein’s ever since I watched his 2005 West Virginia team make its run to the Elite Eight. His offensive sets were an absolute beauty to behold, particularly last decade before freedom-of-movement rules and the three-point revolution opened up the game. He always conducted himself with dignity and class. Apparently he was nearly Indiana’s choice in 2006 instead of Kelvin Sampson; had he been hired there I almost certainly would have gone to Bloomington for college instead of West Lafayette. The lady who hired me for my first after-college job was a Michigan alum, and we spent 15 minutes of my 30-minute interview talking about how much we loved Coach Beilein.
So even though I’m a Purdue fan and our path for staying at the top of the Big Ten just got a lot easier, I’m taking this hard. Any real fan of college basketball should be taking this hard. Beilein was constantly considered by his peers to be 100% squeaky clean. He’s always well-spoken, always insightful, always conducts himself with 100% class, and dammit I loved watching his teams play.
As to why he left, that’s pretty easy to figure out. Coach Beilein recently had heart surgery, and I can’t imagine the grind of the recruiting trail appealing to him anymore. A lot of older coaches love coaching, teaching, and game prep as much as they ever did, but their hearts aren’t in going to AAU games in the middle of nowhere year-round to recruit 15-year-old kids. Coach Beilein strikes me as a guy who’s completely honest with himself, and if he doesn’t have his recruiting fastball anymore, then he’ll go somewhere where recruiting doesn’t matter.
I can’t imagine it was about money. Michigan would have backed up the Brinks truck to pay Coach Beilein.
The natural next question is who Michigan hires as their next coach. Since Beilein’s departure was kind of a bolt out of the blue, I have no idea who their top targets will or should be. All I know is that there’s a very slim chance they get anybody as good as John Beilein.
Coach Beilein will eventually be in the college basketball Hall of Fame. He deserves that. I wish that he got one more game as Michigan’s coach, so that Michigan’s fans, and all of the rest of us who appreciate what Coach Beilein means (or now I guess I should say meant; dammit that hurts) to college basketball, could give him one final giant standing ovation.
Godspeed, Coach. The Cavaliers just gained a few new fans today.