As often happens in college basketball, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann found himself in an offseason conversation with his rival to the north, Michigan’s John Beilein. As he reflected on the chat later, Holtmann said he realized that, had the Detroit Pistons offered Beilein their job one year earlier, he’d have accepted it.
Then, a few weeks later, Beilein surprised the college basketball community – but not Holtmann – by accepting the head coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I don’t think it hit me at that time necessarily that he could be on his way out, but I think it put in my mind that potentially if an NBA job came open he would take it,” Holtmann said Wednesday afternoon at Value City Arena. “What all went into that decision I don’t know. I know there’s been some speculation about frustration with some of the things that are going on in our game. I think in a lot of ways for him it was another challenge and an opportunity that he didn’t feel like he and his family could pass up.”
Voted by his peers just a season ago as the cleanest coach in college basketball according to a CBSSports.com anonymous poll, Beilein in many ways seemed to epitomize the notion that a coach who “does it the right way” could succeed in a sport that has been sullied by the recent FBI investigation.
It also somewhat begged the question: if Beilein would leave the sport for the professional level, would Holtmann consider doing the same?
“I love our college game,” he said. “Love it. I think there’s so much that people talk about in terms of our game and quote-unquote potential demise of our game. Then you look at the TV ratings and numbers particularly in March and they’re the best they’ve ever been and one of the all-time rated national championship games and we have a lot of really, really good people. I think obviously everybody’s with one eye keeping an eye on what’s going to happen in the next year to 18 months regarding all of the NCAA stuff. I have frustrations, certainly, like a lot of my colleagues do about some things with our game. At some point maybe I’ll get into that. But I also love it.
“Yeah, I’m fascinated with the NBA game too but that’s more because I’m a coach and I enjoy watching it and studying it and seeing how different, the games are very different. I’m sure John will see that here.”
Holtmann said he’s obviously familiar with Beilein’s replacement, Juwan Howard, but the two do not know each other.
“It’s obviously a really exciting hire for them,” Holtmann said. “Obviously who doesn’t remember watching his (Michigan) teams? And I remember watching him in the NBA as well and have immense respect for how he played. It’s exciting time for them. It’s good for our league in a lot of ways, honestly, because you have a guy who not only was an elite player but he’s also a guy who has kind of worked behind the scenes for an NBA organization for a number of years. He’s prepared and I think that was good for our league.”
He is familiar with newly hired Howard assistant Phil Martelli, the former St. Joe’s coach who has won 444 games at the Division I. His addition to the staff gives him an assistant with extensive experience navigating the college world, something Howard will be learning on the fly.
It’s a move Holtmann said he feels makes sense given the situation.
“I think when you have a guy from the NBA that’s coming in, I think you definitely need a couple college guys because there’s some landmines that you have to avoid, primarily in the way of compliance, that you’re just unaware of when you’re in the NBA,” Holtmann said. “I know Phil a little bit. He’ll do an incredible job in terms of some of the other things to avoid, being a first-time head coach, that we all experienced our first couple years. I would expect that he’ll do a great job with that.”