Whether it was the right time to leave Michigan for the Cleveland Cavaliers, John Beilein wasn’t sure.
One thing he had no doubt about was this: It was the right move to make.
Beilein decided it was time to jump to the NBA and see if he can win on basketball’s biggest stage after molding winners at the college level for 41 years.
“There’s never a good time to leave,” he said following the draft lottery in Chicago on Tuesday. “You can make a couple choices. You can leave too early or you can leave too late. You never know when to leave. This was an opportunity that has so much potential it was too difficult to pass up. It was the right thing to do.”
Beilein accepted a big challenge on Monday when he took the Cavaliers’ job after 12 seasons at Michigan.
The offensive whiz who re-established the Wolverines as national championship contenders will try to orchestrate a similar turnaround in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers won just 19 games in a stormy season following LeBron James’ departure for the Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s a challenge the 66-year-old Beilein is ready to embrace.
“We have good young players,” he said. “Kevin Love. We’ve got some guys with a lot of experience, especially with winning. I talked with all the players today. I feel a good karma right now. Last year, although it was difficult for all, we all learned a lot. Everybody’s gonna grow from it and attack next year with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of spirit, a lot of optimism.”
Beilein sees big potential in a team with an All-Star forward in Love, promising point guard Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. The Cavaliers also have a chance to draft a potential cornerstone player after landing the No. 5 overall pick on Tuesday, not to mention another first-rounder at No. 26 overall.
For Beilein, the past few days have been quite a whirlwind.
He left Michigan to coach a team in Ohio and work for an owner — Dan Gilbert — who happens to be a Michigan State alum. Beilein didn’t realize at first a Spartan would be signing his paycheck. But once he got to know his new boss?
“I think we hit it off right away,” he said.
Beilein met some members of the Cavaliers’ front-office staff for the first time Tuesday night. One even carried a small bag with the new coach’s team-issued cellphone.
Besides learning all the new faces, Beilein will have some cramming to do when it comes to the NBA game.
“I’m gonna have to learn quickly,” he said. “I’m gonna have to really learn the NBA language and just obviously begin this relationship with these players, build this culture that is rock solid.”
Beilein won more games at Michigan than any other coach, with a 278-150 record. He took over a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and lead the Wolverines to nine appearances, five Sweet 16s and two title games. About the only thing they didn’t do was win it all, losing in the finals to Louisville in 2013 and Villanova in 2018.
Michigan also captured Big Ten regular-season championships in 2012 and 2014 after not winning any since 1986. And the Wolverines won the conference tournament in 2017 and 2018.
Michigan wasn’t his only successful stop.
Beilein won 829 games in 41 college seasons, reaching the NCAA Tournament with Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia, as well as the Wolverines. At Michigan, he built what to many was a model program that generally met or exceeded expectations.
The Wolverines were hurt at times by players leaving early for the NBA. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Moe Wagner all made that jump. And it was no different this year, with Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Iggy Brazdeikis declaring for the draft.
For Beilein, early departures were a discussion for another day.
“I’m just really happy to be here right now,” he said.
Beilein had talks with the Detroit Pistons last year, though he said he didn’t get a job offer. The chance to help rebuild the Cavaliers was one he couldn’t pass up.
“I think just the fact that we’re in position to be in position,” Beilein said. “In other words, we’ve got good young talent; we’ve got a great front office. And now, you just combine everything with what I sense is really good teammates on this team. And now we’re just going to all grow together. I’m going to lean on a lot of people for experience. But we’re going to make it happen.”