John Beilein’s lifetime commitment to coaching excellence pays off

Former University of Michigan head coach John Beilein, seen in a 2013 file photo, has been a prolific winner throughout his coaching career. CC-BY 2.0

It’s nice to see the Cleveland Cavaliers take a gamble on John Beilein.

By all accounts, he was an unconventional hire.

For starters, he’s 66 years old. Which means he’s the oldest person to become a first-time bench boss (non-interim coach) in NBA history. A guy named Dave MacMillan, then 64, was appointed Tri-Cities Blackhawks coach in 1950 (he succeeded Red Auerbach), and in 1992 the San Antonio Spurs handed the reins to 61-year-old Jerry Tarkanian.

And he’s never coached a game in the NBA, not even as an assistant.

But know this: Beilein has impeccable coaching credentials. All he’s ever done is win.

Since 1975, he’s been a head coach. He’s always called the shots, always been the one held accountable.

He started out at Newfane (New York) High School, running the boys team from 1975-78. He moved on to Erie (New York) Community College (1978-82) and NCAA Division III Nazareth (New York) College for a year before a move to Le Moyne (New York) College, a D-II school, from 1983-92.

In stints at Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan, Beilein’s coaching acumen become visible to a broader audience, especially in Ann Arbor. He guided the Michigan Wolverines from 2007-19 and piloted the university to NCAA Tournament runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2018. He amassed a 754-425 record on the university level since taking over at Nazareth during Ronald Reagan’s first term as U.S. president.

And starting at Erie, he was named conference coach of the year at every one of his college coaching stops except West Virginia.

Winning was the hallmark of Beilein’s 37-season college coaching career. He led Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan to NCAA Tournament appearances. He went 26-13 in NCAA tourney games.

His college teams never had back-to-back losing seasons. In fact, only five of them did, including a pair of 14-15 campaigns and a 15-17 season.

There are, of course, differences between the college game and the pro games. But Beilein knows what it takes to consistently win: effective communication, bold leadership, innovative play-calling, effective teaching and the ability to instill confidence in his players.

The Cavs, coming off a 19-63 season, won’t challenge the Golden State Warriors’ single-season 73-9 won-loss record. But after the dismissal of Tyronn Lue and his replacement, Larry Drew, a long-term plan is needed to right the ship.

Cleveland gave Beilein a five-year contract. He has some time to put this stamp on the team. There’s also an interesting backstory behind what led to his hiring.

After a lifetime in the game, he’s earned a shot at having this dream job.

The Cavs rolled the dice by hiring first-time NBA coach David Blatt. They reached the 2015 NBA Finals in his only full season at the helm before he was fired midway through the next season.

So maybe Beilein is a peculiar hire only a few years after the Blatt experiment.

But the Cavs must improve. They saw Beilein’s employment history and saw all of the wins that occurred year after year. He’s always done something right.

Who’s to say it won’t continue at the pro level?

Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Larry Shyatt believes Beilein can coach at any level.

“John is old school, and I mean that in a good way,” Shyatt told Cleveland.com. “When people talk about ‘playing the game the right way’ and ‘being unselfish,’ they usually mean just on offense. With John, it’s also on defense. He’s a terrific teacher, a good person.”