John Beilein gives emotional farewell to Cavaliers players and staff

Beilein gave an emotional goodbye to his team following his resignation on Wednesday

James Rapien
February 19, 2020 - 11:33 pm

INDEPENDENCE, OH — John Beilein stood in front of the Cavaliers for one final time on Wednesday. It was a run that ended as abruptly as it began.

Beilein said goodbye to his players after resigning as head coach after just 54-games. Despite the drama that surrounded the team all season, Beilein talked with his team at Cleveland Clinic Courts, explaining why he had to walk away from a job that he had been so excited about just a few months prior.

“I respect the hell out of him,” Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said. “It took a real man to do that today. Everybody you talk to will say they respected the hell out of him.”

It was a run with more lows than highs. Beilein, 67, has been one of the best college basketball coaches in the country for more than two decades. He led Michigan to two Final Four’s in 12 seasons that included a National Championship Game appearance in 2018.

Beilein’s success in college didn’t translate to the NBA. He quickly grew frustrated with lack of practice time. Cavaliers’ players didn’t respond to his coaching style. Losing also took its' toll on the first-year NBA coach.

Leading the Cavaliers is a tough job, but it’s a challenge Beilein thought he could handle. His style is proven, but it needed to be adjusted if it was going to handle a roster that consisted of a weird blend of established veterans like Tristan Thompson and Love, along with youngsters like Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.

Early in training camp, Beilein had the players huddled around him following a practice and yelled, "When coach is talking, everyone else shuts up,” according to the Athletic.

Despite the failed experiment, Beilein looked his players in the eye and explained why he was resigning. 

“To come back after the All-Star break and he walks in just lays it all out on the line,” Love said. “It was really ballsy. For him to do come in and do that and look us all in the eye, you know, and acknowledge that integrity and willingness, that’s big. That’s real man sh-- right there. I respect him for coming in and doing that because he didn’t have to.”

Beilein went 14-40 this season with the Cavaliers. He got off to a great start, leading the team to a 4-5 record, but things went south in a hurry and the team never recovered. 

The Beilein experiment may have been a failure, but it wasn’t due to lack of hard work. He tried to find a way to fix it, logging countless hours with coaches and film study, hoping to build a solid culture in Cleveland.

Once that foundation was built, he would turn the franchise over to J.B. Bickerstaff and walk off into the sunset accomplishing his goal. Unfortunately for Beilein and the Cavs, it didn’t work out the way they hoped.

“He came in every day, busted his ass, wanted to be better, wanted to change the culture,” Love said. “But sometimes, what do they say, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’ Sometimes it doesn’t always shake out or work the way you want it to.”

Bickerstaff takes over for Beilein much earlier than anyone initially planned. He has head coaching experience, but he admits he was surprised when he heard Beilein could step down as head coach.

“Losing is something that I think, unless you’re in it, it’s hard to explain the feeling and how it weighs on you and how heavy it is,” Bickerstaff said. “For all of us, coaches in particular, winning is a feeling of relief, but the losses you take extremely hard. As they mount up, more and more frustrations and emotions come into play.”

Bickerstaff is the Cavaliers’ fourth head coach in two seasons. He takes over without an interim tag, which gives him some peace of mind going into the final 28 games of the season.

“This gives you an opportunity to make very difficult decisions without that same amount of weight that you have to face, where as an interim you’re fighting for your life," Bickerstaff said. "This gives you a little bit of relief from that, and you can make harder decisions based on the long-term and not just the short-term.”

The Cavaliers hope to finish the season strong. It’s been filled with drama, controversy and storylines, which is something most 14 win teams don't have to worry about.

The Cavs may have tuned Beilein out at times during the season, but he commanded the room on Wednesday. He addressed his team one last time, owning his faults and encouraging players and staff to continue fighting.

“For a guy, again, with his credentials to walk in front of a room of A-type personalities and to be vulnerable, is very difficult,” Bickerstaff said. “You got to give him (Beilein) a ton of credit for that, and I think the guys, because they are quality people — they felt that and they were moved by that.”

That’s the beauty of Beilein. That’s why so many people thought he could be the perfect coach to lay a great foundation in Cleveland. It’s unfortunate for everyone involved.

Beilein will take his fair share of criticism and rightfully so, but having a head coach resign after 54-games is a complete organizational failure. That starts with owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman and trickles all the way down to the players.

No one knows that more than the face of the team.

“In a lot of ways, we could have been a lot better,” Love said. “Naturally, you have a lot of young players on this team and the veterans are trying to figure out ways to help the young fellas as well as the coaches. But when you look at things in their entirety as an accumulation, that’s when you start to see the story — it’s not just one man.”

Beilein’s final message to his players may leave a lasting impact, but he didn’t stop with them. He also addressed his coaching staff and is hoping they can finish the job that he set out to do nine months ago.

“Go after it,” Bickerstaff said when asked what Beilein told him. “He showed us a lot and taught us a lot as we moved through it. He was confident in the group that we have, and he had an idea of what he wanted it to look like when it was over with. And he told us to go make it happen. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the future and how we get there, and he was clear on that picture. So, now it’s our job to go out and get that done.”