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The best basketball coach the University of Michigan has ever had

Jun 8, 2018

University of Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein has probably reached his greatest heights – which is saying something.

Since 2012 Beilein’s Wolverines have won four Big Ten titles and got to two NCAA finals, including one of each this spring. No Big Ten coach has done better over that stretch. What’s more impressive is how Beilein has done it: by recruiting genuine student-athletes, then coaching them up to beat teams loaded with stars. Beilein and his staff have pushed six of those underrated players to the first round of the NBA draft.

He also follows the rules, which is why his peers voted him the most honest college basketball coach in America. Now, you might say that’s like winning a race of turtles, but still better to win it, right?

When you take it all into consideration, John Beilein is simply the best basketball coach Michigan has ever had.

This spring the good news kept coming. Everyone but the graduates and star center Moe Wagner are coming back, and Beilein just added the 11th-ranked recruiting class – one of his best ever. Michigan will be playing for more Big Ten and NCAA tournament banners – the kind that won’t get taken down years from now due to investigations.

Credit John U. Bacon

So it was surprising to hear last week that Beilein had met with the Detroit Pistons to discuss their job opening, after they fired yet another coach this spring. Since owner Bill Davidson died in 2009, the Pistons’ highest finish in their conference was eighth place. Self-made billionaire Tom Gores bought the team in 2011, and is already looking for his fifth coach in seven years – not exactly the sign of a healthy organization. They’re also looking for a new president and general manager, so it’s not clear whom the next coach will be working for.

There are a lot of reasons to say “no” to the Pistons -- and only one reason to say yes: money. Michigan is already paying Beilein more than three million a year.

The Pistons could double that, but I’ll never forget what Michigan State’s Tom Izzo told me, after turning down a big raise from the NBA himself: “I can only eat so many steaks.”

Former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler faced a similar dilemma back in 1982, when Texas A&M offered him four times more than Michigan was paying him, which would have made him the highest-paid coach in the country. Why did he turn them down? Because he couldn’t bring himself to tell the players he had promised he would be there for their entire college careers that he was breaking his word, and leaving for the money.

“If your men are not more important to you than your money, then you didn’t really care about them in the first place.”

12 years after Schembechler passed away, in front of Schembechler Hall you can find a large statue of the man himself. They don’t make statues for those who left.

So, after a week of publicly flirting with the Pistons, it was not too surprising when Beilein announced his decision to stay:

Beilein’s accountant might disagree, but Bo would tell he made the right decision. Bo never regretted it, and Beilein won’t either.

John U. Bacon is the author of nine books. His latest is The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.