Understanding your players is important. As a head coach, you want to be liked enough by your players that they will run through a wall and do anything for you yet disciplined enough to the point where they know that business means business during games, practices, film sessions, and every other team activity. It’s important to not only draw the line but know it, too, for all players and coaches alike. The best coaches seem to do a great job in understanding that. There’s a reason former (and current) Cleveland Cavaliers players have never really mentioned David Blatt’s name after he was fired midway through the 2015-16 season. Then there’s a coach like NBA Champion Tyronn Lue, a player’s coach. Another example is former Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta. Both Lue and Matta’s players would do just about anything the head coach asked of them and their players were never afraid to praise their coach. There’s something to be said about that.
Much like Lue and Matta, among others, it seems like newly hired Cavs head coach John Beilein is that type of coach as well. What better way to find out than from two former players he coached at Michigan.
“He’s a genuine person, he wants you to be successful, he’ll put you in a position he believes will make you as successful as possible,” Jordan Poole told The Athletic’s Joe Vardon. Poole played under Beilein in Ann Arbor from 2017-19 and is now set to start his NBA career.
“I personally think he’ll be successful,” Poole said. “If you know basketball, you know basketball, and obviously he knows basketball. High-level athletes, athletes who are playing in the best association in the world, and they’re focusing 100 percent on basketball. It’s their livelihood and it’s how they feed their family. He’ll have nothing but success.”
Much like Poole, former Wolverine and Cavalier Nik Stauskas also had plenty of high praise for Beilein. He played for Beilein’s Wolverines from 2012-2014 before leaving early for the NBA.
“Just his attention to detail. He just watches so much film. I remember being there and re-watching all of our practices – like after we finished practice, we’d go in the film room and break down the whole practice,” Stauskas said.
“So, it was time-consuming at the time and sometimes it was a little bit boring, but through doing that, you get such a deeper understanding of his offense and what he’s trying to do when to make the right reads. And I think, over time, you just buy into that constant studying and that constant learning and just being willing to grow.”
Before accepting the Cavaliers’ head-coaching gig, Beilein made sure to individually send each of his Michigan players and Wolverines recruits a text, ensuring that he bid farewell and gave each player a personalized note before the news broke that he was leaving the program. Then, when the news did become public, he called each Cavs player because he knows how important that was to his new team as well. While there are many more examples of how (and why) Beilein is a players’ coach, those text messages and calls alone should ensure that.
He’s well-liked not only by his players but by his peers as well. Not only do coaches around college basketball respect him, but NBA coaches do too. They realize the success he’s had, all while ensuring that his players are maximizing their strengths while improving their weaknesses throughout their time with Beilein. He ensures that his teams are well prepared while developing each of his players as the seasons go on.
“His teams have always been extremely well prepared,” current Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford said. “They’re going to get better as the year goes on, and you’re going to have to execute at both ends of the floor to beat him. And that’s the way it was at Canisius, that’s the way it was at Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan, and that’s how it will be in Cleveland.”
Beilein isn’t used to losing. Over his last five years at Michigan, the Wolverines have lost just 56 games. Set to inherit a wine and gold squad that went 19-63 last season, the Cavs will likely match (or exceed) the number of losses Beilein had the last five seasons combined in the upcoming 2019-20 season. That’s not essentially a bad thing for either he or the team, but it’s what happens when LeBron James leaves twice and the Cavaliers have to rebuild again. With Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, and Kevin Love, along with whoever they decide to take with the fifth-overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, the first-year NBA head coach has a solid core to build around. He must now use everything he has learned and perfected over the last 39 years to lead and develop his team from top to bottom. One of the most glaring attributes he must use is being a players’ coach, much like he has done throughout his entire career.
There’s a reason Beilein has won every step along as head coach at literally every level — from a high school junior varsity team all the way through to Division I college basketball — since 1975. Keep in mind, during his time at Michigan, even though his 278 wins are a program record, he never had a McDonald’s All-American. Instead, he got players that he knew he could transform into great players, ones that would be better for his team and system. That led to nine NCAA Tournament appearances, two trips to the Final Four, two Big Ten Regular Season Championships, and two Big Ten Tournament titles. He took Michigan to the National Championship in both 2013 and 2018. The head coach also guided the Wolverines to three straight trips to the Sweet 16 each of the past three years. To top it off, he had 18 All-Big Ten selections and nine NBA Draft picks. Beilein was also named the CBS Sports National Coach of the Year in 2018 and Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014. Decent, huh?
Now, it’s important that he can carry that type of mentality, leadership, and relationships at the highest level of basketball in the world. If he can, he will give himself a much better opportunity to be a successful NBA head coach. Only time will tell, but if the past has shown us anything regarding Beilein, it’s that he will adapt his coaching philosophy in order to make sure that his team maximizes their potential, all while making sure his players are successful and the best they can possibly be, both as a group and individually.
If history tells us anything, it’s that the Cavs will be put in a position to succeed and will continue to improve as the season(s) goes along. Beilein will make sure to make his players the best they can possibly be. It’s why past players that were coached by him love him so much.