Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel ‘surprised’ by John Beilein’s departure to Cleveland Cavaliers, May 13, 2019.
Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Everyone knew, at some point, this would be over. And everyone knew, at some point, that moment would be met with disappointment.
Not necessarily because John Beilein’s departure from the University of Michigan spells the end of perhaps the most prosperous and pride-filling era in the history of its men’s basketball program. But because, at some point, they knew they’d have to hire someone else.
There’s only one John Beilein. You can’t hire a replica. It doesn’t exist.
What’s next for Michigan basketball? That’s a complicated question. Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who commenced his national search for a replacement immediately after Beilein informed him Monday of his plans to leave for the Cleveland Cavaliers, can hire a good coach. But that coach will inevitably be held up to an increasingly high standard set by Beilein.
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel at the Final Four, March 30, 2018. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)
To win with a sparkling clean reputation in an environment where rampant cheating lurks, in a sport that sees promising rosters raided early by the NBA, in front of a fan base that took great pride in the fact its head coach was a pillar of ethical behavior in an environment mostly absent of exactly that.
[ John Beilein saved Michigan basketball, made it matter again ]
There are long-term questions and there are short-term questions.
In the short term, Michigan’s 2019-20 roster was — as expected — flipped upside down earlier this spring when underclassmen Jordan Poole, Ignas Brazdeikis and Charles Matthews declared early for the NBA draft. Beilein had been working tirelessly to find replacements for those players in the immediate.
He reportedly visited guard Franz Wagner, the younger brother of former Michigan standout Moritz Wagner, in Germany. Michigan went after a handful of graduate transfers, including Oakland’s Jaevin Cumberland. Those options, with Beilein out the door, seem like long shots. Michigan’s new coach may inherit a roster that doesn’t have an experienced two-guard on it.
The impact on recruiting won’t be felt until after the new hire is made. Michigan has two signees for 2019-20: Jalen Wilson and Cole Bajema. Surely they’ll evaluate everything in the interim. It’s too early to say how this move will impact future recruiting and/or roster shaping.
The short-term issues can’t be the driving factor in this decision, though.
Long-term, there are multiple avenues Manuel can explore.
Hiring an in-house candidate would be the best possible way to retain a bulk of the culture established by Beilein during his 12 years on campus. It would also mean hiring someone with zero head coaching experience. Luke Yaklich and Saddi Washington are both 43 years old, they were both trusted assistants, but this job is infinitely better than it was when Beilein took over in 2007.
[ Who replaces John Beilein? Here are some Michigan coaching candidates ]
Michigan can probably reach higher. The program’s identity was Beilein. Replacing him with the people who worked around him for no other reason than that would be a stretch at best. Again: An exact Beilein replica doesn’t exist. Attempting to pull that off may be impossible.
Beilein didn’t leave Michigan for financial reasons, but the school’s deep pockets could put it in position to at least make a run at a few big names.
Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan and Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens both made their names in the profession as college coaches. Both would be perceived as big-splash hires and long-shots at this point. They’d also both come with a hefty price tag. Beilein was making roughly $3.8 million per year on his latest deal. A coach like Stevens or Donovan would cost more. Head football coach Jim Harbaugh currently has a base salary of $7 million. Stevens or Donovan could command something in that ballpark if Michigan is serious about pursuing that path.
Some of the top college options would also come with large price tags, especially this late in the offseason. Budding Texas Tech star Chris Beard already signed an extension with the school that’ll pay him roughly $6 million per year.
Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser speaks at the Final Four, March 30, 2018. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)
The other option would be to go with someone less established. Which, if you’re Manuel, would mean trusting your instinct.
Loyola’s Porter Moser is one of those who is less established. He did make a Final Four run in 2018. But that was the only NCAA tournament team he’s had in eight years at Loyola. A Final Four is impressive. But is that enough for this job?
Former Michigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan knows the program and the area and is well-liked. But he has been at Butler for two years, and last season wasn’t great (16-17 record). Michigan’s current assistants have never been a head coach. Jordan’s barely been a head coach.
Michigan could dip into a lower-priced tier of candidates that might include Florida’s Mike White, Iowa State’s Steve Prohm or Providence’s Ed Cooley. All well-respected coaches younger than 50.
The unconventional, but familiar, path would be a move for Juwan Howard — a former Fab Fiver who has been on an NBA bench with the Miami Heat since 2013 but has never coached a minute of college basketball.
Either way, Michigan — which will be assisted by the search firm of Turnkey Search during this process — has to do all it can in the vetting process to make sure it’s hiring someone who is willing to compete with as much integrity as possible. If corners are cut, big problems can follow. Michigan understands that better than most.
Anyone paying close attention to this situation knew Beilein leaving for the NBA was possible after his conversations with the Detroit Pistons last spring. Manuel, like any athletic director, has his list of names. Now he’ll have to make a decision.
He can’t hire the next John Beilein because, in truth, there’s only one John Beilein. There will be serious change on the horizon for Michigan basketball. In style, perhaps. And possibly even in success rate.
This is a better job than it was when Beilein took over in 2007. But these are massive shoes to fill. It took Beilein six years to firmly establish Michigan as a national force in college basketball again. Success can be extremely fleeting. This roster is currently in flux and nothing’s promised in a competitive league like the Big Ten.
Manuel was hired to bring stability to the position of athletic director at Michigan in 2016. To date, the biggest coaching decisions he has had to make is hiring hockey coach Mel Pearson in place of retired legend Red Berenson. This will be a bigger challenge.
The biggest of his career.
[ John Beilein evolved into a Michigan legend, but the puzzle never ends ]
Travel through time through the John Beilein era for Michigan basketball.
Contact Nick Baumgardner at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.