Head of the Class
New Head Coach John Beilein Embraces Opportunity,
Gets Right to Work
Over the course of nearly four decades of coaching, John Beilein has racked up over 800 wins. Add Tuesday morning’s introductory press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts to that list.
The Wine & Gold’s new head coach – as well as his large contingent of family members – made his first local appearance since taking the job last week. And if he can keep his team as interested, inspired and informed as he did the collected crowd in Independence, the Cavaliers are about to turn things back around.
After being introduced by Cavs Chairman Dan Gilbert and GM Koby Altman, Beilein hit every note in nearly 45 minutes of fielding questions and sharing anecdotes. He talked about getting plenty of advice from current and former coaches as well as some guidance from some of his former players currently in the NBA.
But a coach is a coach – and before folks started assembling for the late-morning presser – Beilein, in a shirt and tie, was out on the floor working with both Larry Nance Jr. and Collin Sexton, the latter of which flew in from the Philippines just to be here for his new coach’s arrival.
”You know all of the qualities (Beilein) has – he’s authentic, he’s charismatic, he’s warm,” began Gilbert. “He has all the integrity in the world, is a tireless worker and he’s tough. He’s direct, he’s honest. He’s all the things you’d want in a head coach, especially at the stage we’re in. And I can’t wait to get started.”
Gilbert then recounted a story from last Tuesday night’s NBA Lottery – with Beilein refusing to let the Cavaliers contingent get down after falling to No. 5 overall.
“Instantaneously, he just looked at us and said: ‘That's it. Let's go. Fifth is good. We're good.’ And he saw my son Nick (at the dais) and said, ‘First thing we're gonna do: we're gonna go up there after this thing to pick him up, we're gonna talk about No. 5 when the Lottery’s over – and then let's go.
”That's the kind of person he is.”
Beilein joins the organization after a prolific college coaching career – piling up 829 victories with 13 NCAA Tourney appearances (and a pair of trips to the Championship game). He’s won at least 20 games on 23 occasions, is the winningest coach in Michigan hoops history and is one of just five coaches to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the past three seasons.
“When we did our search, we sort of started at the end in terms of our wish-list before we put any names on paper – this is what we want, this is what we're looking for,” continued Altman. “We wanted a cultural driver and a leader. We wanted a teacher and we wanted an innovator – someone that's going to be able to adapt on the fly to the personnel and the times. We want an incredible communicator and also someone who embraced analytics.
”And Coach Beilein checked all the boxes.”
Beilein got in a little hands-on work with Nance and the Young Bull on Tuesday morning, but he’s already introduced himself and his message to the rest of the squad.
”I’ve spoken with every player on the team from the returning roster, and the excitement in their voice, I feel like I'm talking with the some of the best young men I've ever coached whether they're at West Virginia or Michigan,” said the 66-year-old, barely containing his eagerness to move forward. “I feel like I'm talking with those young men again who are who are all like sons to me.
”I hated leaving a great place like the University of Michigan; it could only be for something special like this. We have something special like that right here in front of us.”
"You know, opportunities and challenges go hand-in-hand - so when we can be in these situations, it's so gratifying to turn a program around."
Cavaliers Head Coach John Beilein
The father of four (and grandfather of four) – all of whom were in attendance on Tuesday – got his start at the high school level back in upstate New York.
He then moved on to Erie Community College and then to Nazareth College before spending nine seasons with Division II Le Moyne and five more at Canisius – taking the Golden Griffins to the NCAA Tournament in 1996. From Canisius, he took the job at Richmond – reaching 100 wins faster than any coach in school history.
He won another 100-plus games in his five seasons with West Virginia – earning four postseason nods, including back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances in 2005 and ’06 and taking the NIT Championship in his final season in Morgantown.
Of course, it’s a big leap from college to the pros and Beilein admitted that he’ll have to tweak his approach. But he also shared two pieces of advice he got from former head coach and current TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy: one piece of advice was to be yourself, the other piece of advice was not to take too much advice.
One thing that’s been said over and over since the hire is that Beilein simply wins everywhere he goes – from LeMoyne to Ann Arbor. And despite establishing himself at each program he’s turned around, he and his family have continued to seek out new challenges.
”You know, opportunities and challenges go hand-in-hand – so when we can be in these situations, it's so gratifying to turn a program around,” said Beilein, turning the group’s attention to the back of the gym. “Look at all those banners up there. It's been done before. Why can't it be done again? There's no question about it, and in time we'll get it done.”
As all the reporters finished writing pieces like this one and Beilein’s family – including a quartet of young grandkids – cleared out of Cleveland Clinic Courts, there was the Cavaliers new head coach, still in his shirt and tie, working with some of the squad’s assistants, talking X’s and O’s and otherwise.
Beilein also mentioned wanting to run Collin Sexton through a couple drills to work on over the next couple weeks.
The 22nd head coach in Cavaliers franchise history came to Independence on Tuesday ready to roll. And after finally meeting the man, an entire gym full of attendees was ready to join him.