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Coaching candidate spotlight: John Beilein

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The former Michigan coach has won in the Big Ten and recruited the state to great success. He’s also 68 years old.

Michigan v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This is the latest installment in Crimson Quarry’s Coaching Candidate Spotlight series, where we’ll break down names that Indiana could consider to replace Archie Miller.

John Beilein isn’t doing much these days. Sure, he has the whole Big Ten Network studio analyst thing going on, but the guy’s a coaching lifer. This can’t be how he saw his sideline career drawing to a close.

Brendan Quinn is one hell of a college basketball writer. Not only is he one of the best voices covering the sport today, Quinn has come to know and understand Beilein in ways many others do not, writing several excellent stories on the man — including this brilliant origin story in 2014.

On a recent episode of his “Moving Screen” podcast, Quinn offered this insight on the former Michigan coach and whether he might receive a call from IU:

“I think he’ll listen if that call comes and consider it very, very seriously,” Quinn said. “From everything I understand, which includes conversations with him, Beilein still feels the juice and is wrestling with the idea of ‘Do I want to do this or do I not?’”

The possibility of ~Indiana head men’s basketball coach John Beilein~ is a fascinating thought exercise, especially when you consider that it would be a virtually unprecedented hire. According to research compiled last winter by our own Andy Wittry, there were 297 full-time head coaches hired between the start of the 1984-85 season (which is when the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams) and the 2019-20 season. None were older than 61.

Beilein turned 68 last month, and hasn’t coached since his 54-game run with the Cleveland Cavaliers ended unceremoniously in February 2020. Could he be an option for Indiana?

The resume

Overall college record: 754-425 (.640)
NCAA tournament appearances: 13
NCAA Tournament record: 26-13
Regular season conference championships: 4
Conference tournament championships: 4

Beilein owns 571 career wins across stops at Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan. Of those victories, 126 of them came in Big Ten competition during his 12-year run in Ann Arbor, where he took the Wolverines to three Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and won two Big Ten regular season titles and two Big Ten Tournament championships.

In that time, Beilein built a reputation as one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the conference, elevating Michigan’s profile as a national contender after the program struggled under Tommy Amaker’s watch. Interestingly, it was Beilein’s work at West Virginia — he took the Mountaineers to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 in back-to-back years — that first put him on IU’s hiring radar in 2006. Ultimately, Indiana went with Kelvin Sampson.

Advanced metrics

Beilein, whose philosophies grew out of the Princeton system, is generally considered to be one of the most influential offensive coaches of his generation, running a system that values guard play, 3-pointers, motion and quick reactions.

According to Bart Torvik.com, Beilein’s Michigan teams were ranked inside the top 45 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency in each of his final nine seasons. His 2012-13 team finished at No. 1, his 2013-14 group ranked No. 3 and his 2017-18 squad ended up at No. 2. Generating good looks from distance was a hallmark of Beilein’s teams, and five of his Michigan squads finished inside the top 25 in effective field goal percentage. Beilein’s teams also took care of the ball, ranking inside the top 15 nationally in turnover percentage over each of his final seven years, and inside the top five over each of his final three.

Screengrab | BartTorvik.com

Defensively, Michigan was OK-to-good for the majority of Beilein’s tenure, ranking no lower than No. 94 and no higher than No. 34 during his first 10 years running the program. It wasn’t until he hired defensive specialist Luke Yaklich as an assistant in 2017 that the Wolverines transformed into one of the nation’s elite units on that end of the floor. In 2017-18, Michigan ranked third in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The next year — Beilein’s last before his jump to the NBA — Michigan ranked second.

Recruiting

Michigan had some damn good players during the Beilein era, but none of them were McDonald’s All-Americans. That’s right, John Beilein never landed a single McDonald’s All-American to Ann Arbor. Does that matter? Reasonable people can disagree on this one. On one hand, Beilein’s Michigan tenure is evidence that he is (A) a great teacher of the game, and (B) someone who is skilled in recruiting and coaching to fit his system. That’s certainly not nothing. On the other hand, only two teams since 1979 have won national titles without a Burger Boy on the roster. So.

Speaking of those “damn good players,” 13 of Beilein’s players at Michigan spent time in the NBA. Eleven of them were drafted, including lottery picks Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas.

Beilein also had success recruiting the state of Indiana, signing several players of note including Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, (former Indiana Mr. Basketball) Zak Irvin, Zack Novak and Spike Albrecht.

Here’s how his Michigan classes broke down on a yearly basis, according to the ratings at 247 Sports:

Yearly Rankings (Big Ten | National | Avg. rating)

2019: 9 | 64 | .943

2018: 3 | 11 | .945

2017: 6 | 43 | .917

2016: 6 | 31 | .904

2015: 14 | 107 | .943

2014: 4 | 30 | .881

2013: 3 | 14 | .975

2012: 2 | 8 | .937

2011: 5 | 29 | .922

2010: 6 | 45 | .910

2009: 5 | 34 | .759

2008: 12 | 283 | .621

Parting thoughts

Beilein is an accomplished teacher and program builder, recognized as conference coach of the year in three leagues — Big Ten (2014), Colonial (1998) and Metro Atlantic (1994). He’s piloted teams deep in the NCAA Tournament and is, quite simply, a winner. Granted, he doesn’t have any hardware to show for either of his title game appearances. But in 37 seasons as a college head coach, his teams have finished with losing records only five times.

Off the court, his squeaky-clean reputation took a hit during his disastrous stint in Cleveland after he reportedly told his players they had been playing “like a bunch of thugs.” Beilein later tried to clarify, saying it was a slip of the tongue and that he meant to use the word “slugs” in reference to the Cavs’ slow pace of play. Should Beilein return to the recruiting trail, that could be an incident to which he’ll have to answer. Repeatedly.

The other questions Beilein would need to answer are related to his age. Does he really want to dive all the way back in and undertake a job as massive as the IU coaching position? How long would he look to give Indiana? Would a succession plan be in place from Day 1? How would that work in execution?

With a Beilein hire, Indiana would surely like to count on at least five-to-six years from the longtime bench boss. It would obviously only be a stopgap solution, but if it worked, it would at least give IU the opportunity to build from a different level whenever the next coach takes over. Given Beilein’s track record for building winning programs, he’s a candidate worth considering. Still, though, how quickly could Beilein implement his systems and get IU turned around? It’s one more consideration for what would be a virtually unprecedented hire.