A Coach’s Perspective

Frank sticks up for Beilein amid media ado over moves in NCAA title game

Lawrence Frank reflects on the tactical moves made by Michigan coach John Beilein in the NCAA title game.
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Lawrence Frank admits he comes at this from the perspective of a man who dreamed of being a coach the way other kids hope to become an astronaut or movie star. Outsiders making sweeping assumptions and proclamations armed with a fraction of the proprietary knowledge the coach possesses drive him a little crazy.

And when he hears the rumblings directed at Michigan coach John Beilein after Monday’s championship game loss to Louisville in one of the most competitive and entertaining title games of its era, he bristles.

When Michigan’s national player of the year, Trey Burke, picked up his second foul before the mid-point of the first half, Beilein put him on the bench. He left him there for the rest of the half as freshman backup Spike Albrecht’s shooting allowed Michigan to build a double-digit lead with 17 first-half points. Louisville wound up cutting Michigan’s halftime lead to one when Luke Hancock drilled four 3-pointers in the final two minutes.

“It comes with the territory, but let’s play devil’s advocate,” Frank said. “Let’s say he puts him back at the two-minute mark, three-minute mark and he picks up his third foul. What are people going to say then? You had a 12-point cushion! Why would you put him back in the game? He got the youngest team to the finals.

“Anyone can have their opinion, but he’s the coach. We all understand it comes with the territory, but I won’t lie to you – it (bothers) me a little bit. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. But this is what this man does every single day and he knows his team better than me, better than (CBS analyst) Doug Gottlieb, better than anyone else.”

Point taken. Really, would Burke have been guarding Hancock? Nope. Would Michigan have operated more efficiently on offense and perhaps countered Louisville’s attack better had Beilein stuck Burke back in for the last few minutes? Impossible to say, but Michigan scored 38 points in a half against the nation’s No. 1 defense, largely without Burke.

If the astounding didn’t happen – Hancock hitting four triples in a heartbeat – Michigan would have had a decent but not insurmountable halftime lead and come out in the second half with the national player of the year rested and free to play without caution. And Burke, as it turned out, was terrific in the second half.

In a media environment that too often rewards extreme opinions over measured logic, insisting on black or white labels in a world that largely exists within gray shadows, Frank looks beyond a team’s record to determine the quality of the coach. At Michigan, for example, he knows what was required for Beilein to take the Wolverines to the NCAA title game when just a few years ago he could barely get recruits with any other legitimate Big Ten or comparable interest to give the Wolverines a look.

“I think he’s one of the finest coaches in the country,” he said. “John Beilein is a phenomenal coach. All he’s done is win. If you’ve been to his practices, around his kids, the thing that impresses you so much is the guy is 100 percent the way he presents himself: character, core values, hard work, good kids, earn your way. I think he’s a terrific coach and person. He’s authentic.”

Frank didn’t come to personally know Beilein until landing with the Pistons. As he waited for the 2011 lockout to end, he attended practices in Ann Arbor. But he was familiar with Beilein’s work dating to his days at Canisius. Later, when Beilein was at Richmond, Frank, then coaching in New Jersey, studied what Beilein did with two-guard fronts, which Frank used with the Nets.

Beilein goes way back with Michigan’s other Big Ten coach, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, and spoke glowingly of both.

“I think (Beilein’s) a great coach,” he said. “I think they have a great program. Same with Tom Izzo. In this state, we’re very lucky. You look at this state, damn lucky, in terms of the coaches, the players, the programs, on the collegiate level, are phenomenal.”

Frank doesn’t go out of his way to avoid outside opinion, as Brian Hill insisted he’s done since his first NBA coaching stint with Orlando when he sat in for Frank last month as he attended to his wife during her hospitalization. He finds “it’s all part of understanding the climate of your team.” But he finds himself shaking his head – or worse – with increasing frequency as the forums for opinion multiply.

“We have so many forums,” he said. “Here’s a guy with the youngest team in the tournament, they’re in the final game, and the storyline is coaching? Are you kidding me?”

Alas, no.