You are here
Home > College Sports > Why John Beilein leaving Michigan and jumping to the Cavaliers makes a lot more sense than you think

Why John Beilein leaving Michigan and jumping to the Cavaliers makes a lot more sense than you think

The timing is surprising, sure — if only because the news broke on a Monday morning in May, which is not when college basketball coaches normally change jobs. But John Beilein to the Cleveland Cavaliers? That development, in a vacuum, isn’t that surprising. He’s been intrigued by the NBA for years. He interviewed for jobs last offseason. He’s 66 and, like each of us, not getting any younger. So jumping now makes sense.

Needless to say, it’s a massive loss for Michigan.

In Beilein, what Michigan had was one of the best and most respected men in the sport. He won two Big Ten regular-season titles, two Big Ten Tournament titles and advanced to the final game of the NCAA Tournament in both 2013 and 2018 — all while earning the reputation of a clean coach in a dirty profession. Consider: two years ago, we polled more than 100 college coaches and asked them to name the high-major coach they genuinely believe operates completely within the NCAA’s rulebook. Beilein won by a significant margin with 26.6 percent of the vote. Simply put, in college basketball, the list of successful coaches who are universally respected isn’t long. But Beilein was on the list — perhaps at the top of it.

Now he’s gone.

And it’s really not hard to understand why.

As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday morning, Beilein had “become increasingly frustrated with the nature of college basketball recruiting and the retention of top players.” Let’s take those one by one. The FBI investigation that uncovered just how prevalent cheating had become underlined the challenges a by-the-book recruiter like Beilein faced annually. Trust me when I tell you, he won’t miss that part of the sport at all. Meantime, Michigan is losing three starters early to the NBA Draft even though none of them are locks to be selected in the first round. That would obviously be frustrating for anybody — especially when you consider the Wolverines could’ve theoretically returned every player from a roster that won 30 games and finished No. 6 at KenPom last season. Had things broken a certain way, Michigan would’ve been the 2019-20 preseason No. 1. As it is, the Wolverines are losing their top three scorers — and now their coach.

That’s a rough turn of events.

How Beilein will do in the NBA is anybody’s guess. But, make no mistake, he’s equipped to tackle the challenge. He has the mind and temperament necessary to succeed at this level. But, as is the case with every NBA coach, his ability to win will largely be determined by the roster Cleveland’s front office assembles for him. And, right now, the roster isn’t good. It’s a roster that just finished 19-63.

So good luck, John!

Either way, count me among those with mixed emotions. On one hand, I couldn’t be happier for a decent man who started his career as a high school coach and weaved his way through the profession without ever being an assistant for anybody. It really is an amazing climb. I’ll personally be rooting for Beilein to succeed. But, on the other hand, this is a blow for college basketball, and that’s unfortunate. In a sport short on people who entered it for the purest of reasons — not to get wealthy or famous, but simply to teach young people — Beilein was unique and one of the few coaches you could reasonably trust to mold a quality team, without a hint of rules violations, out of almost any roster. Michigan will definitely miss him. So will college basketball in general.