Mike Casazza: Now in sixth season, Beilein excited to see the finished product
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- John Beilein won 24 games and a share of the Big Ten regular season championship at the University of Michigan last season before bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round against upstart Ohio.
Then a funny thing happened to Beilein in the offseason.
He finished his fifth season at Michigan and promptly began preparations for his sixth. An event that produced no news was nevertheless newsworthy.
He coached five seasons at Canisius (1992-1997) and then left for Richmond, where he worked five years before taking the job at West Virginia in 2002. He spent five seasons with the Mountaineers before starting a reclamation project with the Wolverines in 2007.
This sixth season is the first in a stage of a career he's never quite experienced.
"He could never see how things would turn out after he rebuilt those previous programs, but he wants to stay and finish his coaching career there now and finally see what he built," said Pat Beilein, the West Virginia Wesleyan coach who scored 1,001 points for his dad from 2003-06 at WVU.
"He never got that chance with the other programs he was rebuilding. Now he's looking forward to seeing what will come of the finished product."
An unquestioned winner in games and practices, Beilein always coached for the victories and improvements. He lived for building something special, which often meant rebuilding a program, whether it was the one he would leave a job to take over or the N.C. State or Indiana jobs he eyeballed while at WVU.
"There is no other one now," John Beilein said Wednesday. "It's been a great journey so far being a bit of a nomadic coach at different places. Sometimes there comes a time when you have to say, 'Oh, man, I really want to savor this one and make the most of it.' "
It's that last part that threatens to irritate old wounds inflicted in April 2007, when Beilein led the Mountaineers to the NIT title. He promptly left a team that featured two NBA players and key contributors to the 2010 Final Four team.
There was talent on the roster and potential in the future, but there were suggestions Beilein could have both at Michigan at a level he could not have at WVU. Beilein never said just that and he still pushes back against the suggestion today. The Wolverines, he said, merely provided another chance to do what he loved most.
"The opportunity to go to the University of Michigan was a great opportunity, but I also cherished what I had at West Virginia," the 59-year-old Wolverines coach said. "Sometimes you can't have both of those opportunities so you have to make one of those decisions.
"I loved to rebuild programs and thought hopefully I could do one more and the University of Michigan ended up being that choice. When people say to me, 'You have better recruiting classes,' I never say those things because the people who rank those things don't know what a lot of us coaches know."
He likened the NCAA Tournament teams at Canisius and Richmond to ones at WVU and Michigan because they each succeeded in growing with coaching and the system. What he has with these Wolverines is in many ways like no other time in his 35 seasons.
Michigan is ranked No. 3 and 10-0 before Saturday's 8 p.m. ESPN game against the Mountaineers at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Wolverines were last 10-0 in the 1988-89 season, which ended with a national championship that doesn't sound so far-fetched this season.
Beilein, of course, would have you believe otherwise.
"We are playing five freshmen more than any team in the country," he said. "It's very rare those type of young men sustain success, so we try every day to get them to continue to understand prosperity so they can continue to get better."
But, oh, those freshmen. Glenn Robinson III was a five-star, top-15 high school player who averages 11.6 points per game. That's two points per game fewer than Nick Stauskas, a top-70 player last year who's shooting 58 percent from 3-point range. Mitch McGary was a top-30 player who stands 6-foot-10 and weighs 250 pounds and serves a significant purpose in Beilein's offense and defense.
A year ago, Trey Burke was the Big Ten's best freshman and nearly went to the NBA. He's averaging 17 points and 6.9 assists. A year before that, Beilein landed Tim Hardaway, Jr., another NBA prospect who averages 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds.
Everything has come together to propel Beilein to a level he's never experienced as a college coach. The view is much different at this height.
"I've always been very comfortable in the underdog role," he said. "I don't think I've been comfortable with any of the preseason or pre-conference type of gossip about who's the best. That's got to be determined down the road."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.