There is no playbook for hiring an NBA basketball coach. Each team has its own definition of need and desire, its own specific set of problems and challenges.
What it comes down to is chemistry and instinct. A candidate will present themselves and strike a responsive chord and no bias for age or race or pro experience will stand in the way.
Still, you’d admit it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the Cleveland Cavaliers, beset with myriad difficulties in the post-Lebron era, in a sport where youthful vigor is sought, decided to hire University of Michigan coach John Beilein. He is expected to receive a five-year deal.
Beilein confirmed the hire on social media: “Thanks to everyone at the Univ. of Michigan for their incredible support these last 12 years. Our fans, alums, leaders, players and students are amazing,” he wrote. “It has been a heck of a ride and I hope you enjoyed our teams and staff as much as I did! Go Blue Forever!”
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel signed Beilein to a new deal last summer through the 2022-23 season, at which point it was expected he might retire. Beilein was scheduled to make $3.8 million annually through the end of his deal.
“It became very clear to me where I was meant to finish coaching,” Beilein told the Detroit Free Press after the extension was announced. “If you followed my career, it was ‘you’ve built this up, you’ve got it right and you leave the program in better shape than you found it.’ And then go and do it again somewhere else.”
While at UConn, Manuel hired Kevin Ollie to replace Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun in 2013 and the Huskies immediately won a national championship before falling off the map.
Beilein is 66 years old and a master offensive technician. But he has no experience coaching pro basketball, although many he tutored with the Wolverines in his 12 seasons in Ann Arbor have gone on to NBA careers. Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary and Moritz Wagner were first-round picks.
The negotiations between the Cavs and Beilein kicked into gear last week in Ann Arbor and were finalized on Sunday.
What’s certain is this was a long and drawn out process for Cleveland. They interviewed at least 10 candidates before deciding to dip into the college ranks. Beilein met with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert on Friday and Beilein soon distanced himself from other candidates, such as Orlando’s Steve Hetzel, Denver’s Jordi Fernandez and Wes Unseld Jr., and Portland’s David Vanterpool.
“John is one of the most accomplished and innovative basketball minds and leaders in the entire game,” Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman said in a statement. “He has a unique ability to create an outstanding culture that will promote the development of young players and provide a solid structure to the entire program; not to mention the fact that John Beilein wins everywhere he goes. We are excited Coach Beilein is joining our organization as we continue to build the foundation that any enterprise needs to be successful and competitive year in and year out.”
What also clear is Beilein is one of the great coaches in the college game. And it is not unusual for the NBA to hire from the collegiate ranks. Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger, Tim Floyd, Brad Stevens and P.J. Carlesimo are a few examples of that.
In Beilein’s time at Michigan, the team went to the NCAA Tournament nine times and won 278 games. The Wolverines lost the 2018 NCAA national championship game to Villanova and the 2013 title game to Louisville. He won two Big Ten regular seasons and two conference tournament titles.
Beilein replaces Larry Drew, hired after Tyronn Lue was fired after just six games. He led the Cavs to a 19-63 record. Their season ended on a 10-game losing streak and there never was any doubt the organization would be headed in a different direction.
Despite his success in the NCAA, Beilein had actively pursued NBA jobs. He interviewed for the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic last season. ESPN reports he will be in Chicago with the Cavaliers front office on Tuesday to attend the NBA Draft lottery.
Cleveland and the Phoenix Suns tied for the second-worst record behind the New York Knicks. They will all come to the lottery with a 14 percent chance of picking first, which would allow them to select Duke’s star Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett or Murray State’s Ja Morant.
The Cavaliers suffered in a lot of ways this season. They had a lot of injuries and various dysfunction moments. They apparently will rely on Beilein and his staff to incorporate new rules for personal and professional comportment as a big part of the overall strategy.
The Cavs do not have a lot to work with. They were derailed early in the year when Kevin Love had foot surgery. They do have a solid point guard in Collin Sexton. Cedi Osman and Larry Nance Jr., have great potential. Love, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson are reliable veterans.
“Would have been easy to kind of fold and whatever, just get steamrolled the last however many games and nobody learned anything, chucked shots and played pick-up basketball, but I don’t think we did that,” Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. said. “We improved in a lot of different areas and a lot of individual areas.”
Cleveland assistant GM, Mike Gansey, played for Beilein at West Virginia and is expected, along with Altman, to help build a staff of assistants with league experiences to help him navigate in the early stages.
“I love the position the team is in to build and grow and this was something I felt was the perfect fit for me,” Beilein said in the Cavaliers’ statement. “With hard work and dedication by all of us, we will grow this team day by day and reinforce a culture of success that sustains itself with strong core values. Cleveland is a great city with amazing fans and I am really looking forward to calling Cleveland home for years to come.”