Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

John Beilein returns to Morgantown, but has little interest in getting back to college coaching

MORGANTOWN — The offers started coming in those early spring months back in 2020, but John Beilein simply wasn’t interested.

He no longer wanted to be a college basketball coach.

“That ship has sailed,” said Beilein, the former WVU and Michigan coach, who amassed 754 wins during 37 seasons at six different schools. “There were many opportunities, lots of calls. I was at a point in my life where I felt like I wasn’t going to miss it.”

Turns out that wasn’t completely accurate.

“When March rolls around, I miss it,” he said. “When that NCAA tournament begins, I miss coaching terribly, because I always start thinking about all the fun we had at West Virginia and at Michigan and some of the great runs we were able to put together.

“What I don’t miss are the sleepless nights and all of the pressure and preparation that goes into those sleepless nights.”

On Feb. 19, 2020, Beilein resigned as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers after coaching 54 games of his rookie season in the pro ranks.

He has since moved on in becoming the Senior Player Development Advisor for the Detroit Pistons, where he works with both players and coaches on their progress in the NBA, without the daily demands and pressures of being the head coach.

“I’m very happy with my job with the Pistons,” Beilein said. “I’m very happy with where I’m at in this stage of my life. I’m 70, and I’m still working with NBA players and coaches and get to impart my experiences and knowledge with them.”

Technically, it’s Beilein’s first job in basketball when he hasn’t been the head coach, a fact that isn’t lost on him.

“I should never say never about getting back into coaching,” Beilein said. “Who knows? They say it’s better to retire early than late. If the perfect opportunity came along, I would strongly consider the perfect opportunity.”

Those 54 NBA games — the Cavaliers were 14-40 when he resigned — stand as the only blemish to Beilein’s coaching career that includes two trips to the national championship game with Michigan, as well as seven Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights and one NIT championship at WVU and Michigan. He coached at WVU from 2002-07 and guided the Mountaineers to the 2005 Elite Eight. He won 104 games in his five seasons at WVU.

“I quickly learned just how different the NBA is,” Beilein said. “In college, you have the power to do it. You can tell guys to do something, because you want them to do it. In the NBA, you have to have influence. There’s so many data points on why you do certain things, and you need influence as a coach to get guys to understand that. That has to grow over time.

“You know, I had never lost like that before in my career. It was hard. It was hard to deal with losing like that.”

Beilein is back in Morgantown on Friday as part of the Appalachia Regional Pro Combine he’ll be participating in — “I haven’t had a chance to come back since my coaching days there,” he said. “I’ve been told I probably won’t recognize it with all the changes around town.”

The combine will be held at the Feaster Center, on the campus of Fairmont State, with about 30 college players from around the country on hand looking to take their first steps into a pro career.

The combine is the idea of J.D. Collins, a former point guard at WVU under Beilein, as well as Darrell Hepburn, a former player at Fairmont State.

The duo have run similar combines for players in Tampa, Fla., where Hepburn is from, the last two years. The two got to know each other while playing pickup games together during their college days.

“We both have been through the journey of playing overseas and going through that process,” Collins said. “We both have had such a passion for the game and wanted to be able to help others.

“That’s how the combine began. We felt there was a real need to help players understand all of their options, not just a shot at the NBA, but also in learning about the number of different leagues that are available overseas and what all is involved with that.”

The combine features the norm as far as skills and physical testing, as well as team scrimmages, but also sessions that deal with mental development and financial literacy.

Beilein is scheduled for an autograph session from 9-10:15 a.m. on Saturday, before taking part in a coaching clinic, and then he’ll work with the players.

The event is open to the public, with the organizers asking for a donation as admission.

It’ll be Beilein’s first opportunity to work with college players since his final days at Michigan in 2019.

In just that short amount of time, the college athletic landscape has completely transformed with the transfer portal and NIL deals worth millions for some athletes.

Beilein admits he’s heard numerous times he left the college game at just the right time.

“I can’t say 100% that I saw the portal coming, but I think everyone knew major changes were coming,” Beilein said. “Personally, I’m not sure the idea of immediate eligibility is a good thing. It’s not like we’re sending kids to jail when they had to sit out a year. That year of academic growth can be extremely important for so many guys. We look at that as a bad thing, and that’s disturbing to me.”

Beilein said he would have to weigh the pros and cons of the portal and NIL heavily before considering any offers to return to college coaching.

“You’ve got a lot of schools out there so dependent on the portal, but I’m not sure that’s the best way,” Beilein said. “What I would want to do is build through freshmen and create a culture they wouldn’t want to leave.

“It’s like we did before, you go after guys who have both feet into what you’re building and not guys who are looking for an easier path somewhere else. If they have eyes on something else, you can’t go with those guys.”

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