Beilein is gone, now what?

Basketball

John Beilein is the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Michigan job is vacant for the first time in 12 years.

When Beilein took the job, the landscape of the program was the polar opposite of what he leaves it as. Then, U-M needed a miracle to become national contenders. That miracle was Beilein, and now they have a program that consistently finds itself deep in the NCAA Tournament.

The 66-year-old is beloved and cherished by the fan base, his players and the college basketball world. The winningest coach in program history and a legacy cemented, Beilein has moved on. Which means, Michigan must, too.

Who’s next for U-M? How do they follow up the greatest coach in its program’s history?

Here’s a breakdown of what could go down in the coming weeks for Michigan’s basketball program.

There is no sure guy

In coaching searches, there is, sometimes, an obvious hire. For Michigan football in 2015, that was Jim Harbaugh. The no-doubt, homecoming-home-run hire. Harbaugh not only played at U-M, but he was coming off a highly successful tenure in the NFL with the 49ers, despite struggling in his final season. Hiring anyone else would’ve been widely criticized by the Michigan faithful. No matter his current status, he was the guy from Day One.

The pending search for U-M hoops is the opposite of that.

The only notable alum who could be on Michigan’s list of candidates is Juwan Howard. The Miami Heat assistant coach was a part of the famed Fab Five teams from 1991-1994. Howard was the fifth overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. He spent 19 seasons in the NBA and has been an assistant in Miami since his retirement in 2013. Howard has been groomed by Erik Spoelstra, the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA, and Pat Riley, a Hall of Famer. He interviewed for the Lakers job and, reportedly, impressed the front office despite ultimately hiring Frank Vogel.

UPDATE: Per Rod Beard, Howard is on U-M’s list as well as Beilein’s list of possible assistants in Cleveland. 

That being said, he has no head coaching experience nor does he have any college coaching experience. To put him on the shortlist wouldn’t be wrong, but it would certainly be bold.

Point being: this is a wide-open race. There is no Harbaugh out there. There’s a pool of candidates in the NBA, NCAA and from Beilein’s staff that could be contacted or interviewed for the job.

Let’s evaluate.

The pipe dreams

Brad Stevens, 42 (Boston Celtics)

Look, hot takes aren’t always my thing (unless you follow my Pistons fandom, in which my takes are flaming), but this is a name being tossed around on social media and I’ll eat a hat if it happens.

Stevens has been regarded as a generational coach and one of the best x’s-and-o’s guys in the game — even if Kyrie Irving and the Celtics under-performed this season.

As someone who follows the NBA closely, it seems Boston is ready to move on from Irving … not Stevens. 

The roster is loaded with young talent — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward — and they have three (!!) first-round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Not to mention, Stevens got an “undisclosed extension” from Boston in 2016, thanks to consistent support from GM Danny Ainge.

Michigan landing Stevens would be nothing short of miraculous.

Tony Bennett, 49 (Virginia)

Hot off a National Championship, perhaps Bennett feels he’s completed the mission at UVA and is ready for a new challenge.

Or, the far more likely reality, is he’s built a consistent power at Virginia over his 10-year tenure. UVA will contend for titles for years to come, so long as Bennett is around. As a Wisconsin native and former Badgers assistant, the only college team that could sway him is probably U-W. Of course, the NBA could call him soon, too.

Unless Michigan can back up the Brinks truck and give him an offer he can’t refuse … it won’t happen.

Though, it would be neat for Michigan to lose a coach to the Cavaliers and in turn hire a guy away from the Cavaliers.

The realistic home run hires

Billy Donovan, 53 (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Without a doubt, Billy Donovan has been the most mentioned name of the immediate candidates following Beilein’s departure.

Donovan would be far more than a home run, rather a grand slam hire. 

Having both NCAA and NBA experience — taking teams to multiple postseasons in both — there isn’t a hire more fitting for Michigan on the short list of top candidates.

Hired by Florida at 30, Donovan spent 19 years with the Gators. A legendary tenure that included back-to-back National Championships (’06, ’07); four Final Four appearances; six SEC Championships; and three SEC Coach of the Year awards. 

Following a long, successful time in Gainesville, Donovan left for the NBA in 2015 to coach the Thunder. Headlined by the polarizing Russell Westbrook and fellow superstar Paul George, expectations in OKC are sky-high and it’s no secret that Donovan’s seat is, at the very least, heated. The Thunder suffered a First Round exit this postseason, a season that was supposed to challenge Golden State for the Western Conference throne.

There would be no time better for Donovan to leave than now. He can take over a program that needs no fixing and will immediately contend for conference and national titles.

All things considered, he likely won’t lose his job in OKC until at least 2020, if he can’t right the ship.

Perhaps he’s done what he’s wanted to do in college basketball and wants to stay and compete in the NBA, despite his successes not being as great as they were in the NCAA.

Regardless, the two would be a perfect match.

Jay Wright, 57 (Villanova)

I’m not going to spend much time on this one. I damn near put it in the “pipe dream” section above, however, leaving Villanova for Michigan isn’t nearly as bold as Stevens leaving the Celtics or Bennett leaving an ACC power.

Though, I believe the only job Wright would leave for is the Sixers job, that position remains filled by Brett Brown until further notice. So we’ll leave it out.

‘Nova is a year removed from a second National Championship in three years. The school prioritizes its basketball program over everything else by a landslide. That includes a brand new arena.

Wright owns the show at Villanova. You likely won’t find a single person connected to the program that doesn’t adore its head coach. And it’s well deserved.

I put Wright in this section because coaching in the Big Ten means something. As does coaching at a school as big and resourceful as Michigan. Furthermore, Wright makes $3.87M/year at Villanova, per USA Today’s salary table. Beilein made $3.80/year at U-M. Might they up the ante and make Wright a 5-to-7 million per year guy? That would put him on par with Kentucky’s John Calipari ($7.95M) and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski ($7.04M) contracts.

The question is: will Michigan pay that kind of money? And, even so, would that make Wright leave?

Chris Beard, 46 (Texas Tech)

The hottest name in college basketball’s coaching tree, Chris Beard was a longtime assistant under Bob Knight at Texas Tech. Beard took the head coaching job in 2016.

You might recall his Red Raiders handing Michigan a 63-44 beatdown in the Sweet 16 during this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Beard has only been at Texas Tech since 2016, but the numbers don’t lie. Despite being a Big 12 bottom-feeder for years and projected to finish last in the conference, Beard took Tech to the National Championship in 2019. Additionally, TTU won a share of the Big 12 for the first time in school history and its first conference title since 1996, when they played in the Southwest Conference.

All that led to Beard signing a six-year extension worth more than $4.5 million, per the Dallas News. That makes him the third-highest paid coach in the country, which makes it hard to believe he’ll be leaving Lubbock anytime soon.

There’s a chance U-M can sway him, but it’s slim.

Hiring within

Michigan’s staff under Beilein was strong, especially the one he leaves behind in Ann Arbor from his final season. 

Saddi Washington and Luke Yaklich are future head coaches. That’s no secret, as Beilein has made it known that the two are destined for head coaching jobs.

However, neither have any head coaching experience.

Saddi Washington, 43

When Beilein had a heart procedure last offseason, Washington coached the team during its trip overseas. Joining the U-M staff three seasons ago, Washington has proven to be both a stud recruiter and well-liked presence on the bench. 

Luke Yaklich, 43

Yaklich, in his second season, brought something U-M always seemed to lack under Beilein: elite defense. The Wolverines finished with the second-best defense in the country, per KenPom, behind only Texas Tech (sup, Chris Beard?). It was the highest of any season under Beilein. 

Hiring either guy would go over well with the team. There wouldn’t be much of a transition as both have coached in Beilein’s system — which would likely stay the same under either candidate.

It wouldn’t be sexy to hire within, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near a bad hire, either.

Everyone else

And, lastly, here’s a list of guys U-M could kick the tires on but likely won’t be priorities until other candidates make it clear they’re not interested:

  • Juwan Howard, Miami Heat (mentioned in first graf)
  • Nate Oats, Alabama
  • LaVall Jordan, Butler (former Beilein assistant)
  • Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
  • Mark Few, Gonzaga
  • Kelvin Sampson, Houston
  • Mike White, Florida

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