Column: What did John Beilein expect?

Beilein and the Cavs will part ways on Wednesday

James Rapien
February 19, 2020 - 2:15 pm
Feb 9, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein reacts in the second quarter against the LA Clippers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports


CLEVELAND, OH — What did John Beilein expect?

The 67-year-old is stepping down as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers after posting a 14-40 record in his first NBA season.

No one thought it would be all sunshine and roses for the longtime college coach, but the results were much worse than anyone could’ve predicted.

The Cavaliers shocked the basketball world by hiring Beilein last May. He had flirted with the NBA in the past, interviewing with Atlanta and Detroit, but ultimately stuck to his roots and stayed at the University of Michigan. After spending 12 years with the Wolverines, he decided to take the job with the Cavaliers.

There had to be a reason Beilein made the leap to the pros, despite being 66-years-old at the time. Maybe it was GM Koby Altman’s pitch or Dan Gilbert’s persuasiveness. Assistant GM Mike Gansey played for Beilein at West Virginia and played a significant role in the hiring process. 

Beilein didn’t have the same profile as other interviewees, but bringing in an established, veteran basketball mind like Beilein made sense. Not only did it not work in Cleveland, but it was such a flop that Beilein reportedly left over $12 million on the table to leave the Cavs.

If he was leaving Michigan, it was for the right opportunity. There’s no way he’d act out of desperation and take the Cavs job without a plan, right? Wrong.

What did John Beilein expect?

Making the leap to the NBA was too much for him at this stage of his life. He became frustrated with the lack of practice time; injuries and the inability of his team to pickup his offensive system.

Beilein is a great basketball coach. It was fair to assume his decision to move to the NBA would’ve been well thought out. He should’ve had a plan in place to handle a clunky roster that had a weird blend of established veterans and young players.

He should’ve done his due diligence with a 5-time All-Star in Kevin Love before he took the Cavaliers’ job. The NBA is a player-driven league. If the casual fan knows that, why wouldn’t Beilein? Was he naïve enough to think his system that worked at West Virginia and Michigan would work at the pro level?

What did John Beilein expect?

The Cavaliers aren't known for their stability. They're a rebuilding franchise hoping to inch their way back to relevance. 

Beilein was brought to Cleveland to help establish a culture. The Cavaliers have revolved around LeBron James for the better part of two decades. James was the perfect makeup that helped mask a dysfunctional franchise that has become a laughingstock across the league since his departure.

No one said this job was going to be easy. That’s a big reason why so many people were shocked when Beilein was hired. 

Everything the Cavaliers have gone through this season was predictable — from their 14-40 record, to veterans like Jordan Clarkson being traded and Love’s unhappiness on a rebuilding team. Even the most casual Cavs fan would’ve mentioned these potential issues in May when he took the job. If a fan could see them, why didn’t Beilein?   

Was it as simple as he made it sound? Did Beilein like the idea of taking on a new challenge?

It wasn’t for the money. He left $12 million on the table to get out of Cleveland and his contract with the Cavs was similar to what he was reportedly making at Michigan ($4 million).

A coach with Beilein’s resume can be picky about his next job. Not everyone has that luxury. It appears he acted out of desperation, which is something he didn’t need to do.

He was frustrated during the early stages of training camp and the preseason. It was the worst kept secret that players didn’t buy into his system. Some veterans missed practice to rest their bodies and Love, who has a lengthy injury history, normally didn’t play on the second night of back-to-backs. That shouldn’t have been a shock to Beilein and yet, it was one of the many things that led to his struggles this season.

What did John Beilein expect?

Did he really think that he wouldn't have to change his game plans, film session and overall coaching strategy in the NBA? Did he think the adjustments would be so small, that he could make them on the fly?

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.

Beilein was delusional if he thought that Love, who makes over seven times more per season than his former head coach, was going to respond well to that type of comment early on in their relationship.

Instead of having a plan on how he was going to adjust to life in the pros, Beilein thought his system would translate.

"He was a dictator — not a coach suited for today's NBA," a source told The Athletic.

Some will defend Beilein and criticize the players for not adapting to his system, but there is a way to teach at the pro level. NBA players want to be coached hard, but it was to come from someone they respect. 

In all fairness, the Cavaliers didn’t do Beilein any favors. Altman could’ve traded Love, Thompson and other veterans that publicly or privately voiced their displeasure with the first-year head coach. When Beilein lost the vets, everyone else followed suit. 

He’s a great coach that spent more than 40 years in the college game. Smart people know when they need to change their system and adapt.

I was a 'Beilein backer.' Expecting a smart, established coach to have the self awareness to adjust his system and coaching style shouldn't be too much to ask and yet here we are. 

J.B. Bickerstaff will become the Cavaliers fourth head coach since October 28, 2018. 

If someone like Beilein was moving to the NBA, it had to be for good reason. Instead, it looks more and more like he was acting out of desperation, which usually leads to failure. 

What did John Beilein expect?