In assessing the impact of John Beilein’s coaching switcheroo from Michigan to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a childhood story summarizes the ripple effect extending from Ann Arbor into Ohio.
When I was lad of 11 or 12, my cousin and I wiped my older brother and another cousin off the face of the earth in touch football. Demanding a suitable rematch, the losers suggested a wooden board game similar to foosball that they thought played to their strengths.
We accepted the challenge, and 30 sweaty minutes later my brother and cousin were broken, their limp and seemingly lifeless bodies resembling baggies floating in the ocean.
There was little else to say to the vanquished, but my cousin said it anyway. Placing both hands on my shoulders while eyeing the defeated, he uttered four words that embedded into family lore:
“Now they have nothing.”
The Wolverines lost Beilein, arguably the best coach in the Big Ten and maybe top-three in the nation. And the Cavs got him. But Michigan is still stuck with Jim Harbaugh, who is 0-and-forever against Ohio State.
Look North, ye fans of the Scarlet and Gray. Place your hands on the shoulders of your OSU brethren. Now. They. Have. Nothing.
What in the name of Don Corleone? Has the Buckeye State made a deal Michigan cannot refuse? Because what has been happening across the border of late — Michigan first losing two assistant football coaches to Ryan Day’s staff, and now Beilein coming to Cleveland — is something straight from Godfather II. Does Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith have photos of Michigan athletic administrators in compromising situations?
Whatever it is, Ohio State fans should be pleased. So should the other Big Ten basketball coaches. Beilein, 66, is a beast of a game strategist and teacher, taking teams with excellent but not elite talent to two Final Fours over 12 seasons. Known for running a clean program, he restored Michigan to prominence after a pitiful post-Fab Five era that saw the school struggle for 10 seasons under Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker.
Cavaliers fans, meanwhile, should be reacting with crossed fingers. The list of college coaches who became even moderately successful after jumping to the NBA is littered with disappointments.
For every Billy Donovan (Florida to Oklahoma City) and Brad Stevens (Butler to Boston) who deserve a thumb’s up, there are many more who deserve a thumb’s down.
Rick Pitino was 102-146 with no playoff appearances with the Celtics after leaving Kentucky. Lon Kruger went 69-122 and never made the playoffs with Atlanta after exiting Illinois. John Calipari was 72-112 and 0-3 in the playoffs with New Jersey after departing UMass.
Other college-to-NBA failures include the Iowa State-to-Chicago Bulls double downer of Tim Floyd (49-190, no playoffs) and Fred Hoiberg (117-159, 2-4 in playoffs).
How will Beilein fare? Color me slightly suspicious, despite my respect for the guy and a resume that includes solid coaching stints at a community college and at Division II and Division III schools. He has never worked as an assistant and never been fired.
But the NBA is a different animal. Can Beilein build a winner without having the same control over players that he had in college? Then again, the length of that control continues to erode, as underclassmen stream to the NBA. Beilein had grown tired of the early exits and now looks forward to being on the other side, especially if the Cavs land Zion Williamson in Tuesday’s draft lottery.
Ohio State fans already have hit it big with Michigan losing its only defense against Buckeyes domination. Without Beilein, what do the Wolverines have? Is nothing anything?