One of college basketball’s best jobs is open after John Beilein confirmed Monday that he is leaving Michigan for the NBA to coach the Cavaliers.
The void at the college level will extend beyond Ann Arbor.
Beilein, 66, was reputed to be one of college basketball’s cleanest coaches as the game has been swallowed by salacious stories stemming from an FBI investigation, and subsequent federal trials, into bribery of players and their families. He had been a refreshing antidote to a sport muddled with scandal, running a program free of public accusations of misconduct.
He was an unintentional PR campaign for a sport at a crossroads as it awaits potential NCAA sanctions in the wake of last week’s conclusion of the bribery trials as well as a possible change to the NBA’s “one-and-done” rule and more permissible interaction between agents and players.
But Beilein reportedly had grown frustrated by the savage world of recruiting and the chore of dissuading top players from leaving early for the NBA draft or transferring.
The pending losses of freshman Ignas Brazdeikis and sophomore Jordan Poole to the NBA will hurt the Wolverines’ chances next season after they reached the national championship game in 2018 and the Sweet 16 this year.
The program is so well-established under Beilein, Michigan should aim high for his replacement. Thunder coach Billy Donovan, Villanova’s Jay Wright and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard are names being tossed about, while Wolverines assistant coach Luke Yaklich and former assistant LaVall Jordan, now head coach at Butler, could be nice fits as well.
Beilein took over a dormant program in 2007 that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in almost a decade and built it into a national contender. In 12 years, he guided the Wolverines to two Final Fours — losing in the title game both times — and four Big Ten Tournament and regular-season titles with a 278-150 record.
Still in the shadow of the ever-dramatic Michigan football program, Michigan basketball became a quietly consistent powerhouse. That relative lack of pressure from fans, alumni and administrators at a school where basketball plays the role of appreciated kid brother could be appealing for the next coach.
Although Beilein interviewed for the Pistons job last year, it was still a shock when ESPN broke the news Monday morning that he’s taking the Cavs job. He will take over a rebuilding team that went 19-63 this season, tied for the NBA’s second-worst record.
The idea of potentially coaching Zion Willamson would appeal to any coach, and Beilein has a reputation for developing players in a calm, professional manner that should mesh well in the NBA. The Cavs own a 14 percent chance — the same as the Knicks and Suns — to land the No. 1 pick in Tuesday’s draft lottery.
Beilein moved gradually up the coaching ladder from high school to junior college, Division III and Division II before getting his first Division I job in 1992 at Canisius. Stops at Richmond and West Virginia preceded his stint at Michigan, and now he has reached a career pinnacle in the NBA.
Replacing him at the college level won’t be easy. Michigan needs to hire someone with as much character off the court as success on it.