Former Daily men’s basketball writers remember covering Beilein

Saturday, May 18, 2019 - 9:17am

.

Natalie Stephens/Daily

Many who knew him described John Beilein as a unicorn of sorts. The former Michigan men’s basketball coach stood in contrast to many with his soft exterior and clean image. After he arrived in Ann Arbor in 2007, Beilein built the program up to what it is today — from zero NCAA Tournament appearances in the nine years before he arrived to nine appearances in the 12 years of his tenure. But he also left a lasting impression on former players, assistants, fans and the journalists who covered him.

The Daily spoke with 28 former men’s basketball beat writers over the last 12 years who reflected on their experiences covering the winningest coach in program history.

The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Dan Feldman, 2007-08

There are some people you talk to who are a great quote no matter what. There are some people you talk to are a bad quote no matter what. But with Beilein it really did depend on whether you asked a smart question, the right question. There was really a benefit to thinking through, how do you want to ask this? What do you want to ask? Being on top of that, where you would get a better answer. He’d always be nice about it if he didn’t like your question or it wasn’t a good question, and he’d still be nice if it was a good question, you’d just get a better, more in-depth answer when it was. And I thought that was a fun part of the challenge of covering him.

He’s still the same John Beilein no matter who he’s talking to. He’s not faking it. I just think he doesn’t overthink it. He meets with the media, he’s very open to developing relationships with people who he talks to. I’ve seen him a couple times — I cover the NBA now, so we cross paths a couple times at the draft, we chat for a few minutes, it’s a nice conversation. I’ve seen him back in Ann Arbor, and he remembers who I am. I’m not sure if he remembers my name necessarily, but he knows who I am. It’s because he cares about people he encounters, and I think that’s with everybody in his life.

Ruth Lincoln, 2008-09

He was always so thoughtful with his time and every interaction with you, he always made time. He’d always answer your questions, he’d always look you in the eye. He always gave a lot of thought to your question and made you feel like you were doing your job well and he was thinking about the questions you were asking and it was very encouraging as a first-time basketball reporter. He was wonderful.

One time, it was over Michigan’s spring break and they played at Wisconsin, and I was the only one from the beat covering it. My dad drove out with me to be my sidekick, and Michigan lost, and afterwards, he would’ve been, they lose a game at the end of the season, it would’ve been a really tight window for them to make the tournament. They were one of the last teams in this year, and every game really mattered that year. But my dad came with me to the game and afterwards, I brought my dad down and I introduced him to Beilein and he was so nice to him and you would’ve never thought they’d just lost a game that really matter. He was just his same, thoughtful self. It was a great memory for my dad and me. He always made the time for you, no matter the circumstances.

I met my husband at The Daily writing sports. He covered Beilein’s first season. But when we got married, my dad actually wrote a letter to the athletic department and told, “Hey, Coach Beilein, my daughter and my son-in-law, they both wrote for you, would you mind sending them a card or something?” And he sent us an autographed picture that said,

“Ruth and Dan, congrats on your marriage, go blue! -Coach Beilein.”

And it’s on our fridge.

Alex Prosperi, 2008-09

There were a couple things that came to mind. In typical him fashion, two of them don’t actually have to do with basketball. … But I just remember an overall genuine attitude about him where you just felt like you were talking to a human being all the time. When you were at postgame press conferences, there was a level of confidence that you had in asking him questions, because you didn’t have a fear that he was going to demonize you for a poorly-worded question or a stupid question that a 21-year old would ask. I felt like his reputation that everyone talks about publicly ... was very true even 10 years ago.

I was in Sig Ep, the fraternity. After I finished the beat ... we had this scholarship we gave away to an incoming freshman called the Balanced Man scholarship. It’s like a national Sig Ep mantra about the Balanced Man program, “sound mind, sound body.” We were just looking for some Michigan person to come in and speak, and I was like, I’m fresh off the beat, I’m gonna reach out to (Michigan basketball SID Tom) Wywrot, maybe there’s an off-chance that Beilein says yes. And he said yes.

I walk Beilein in, and give him a little briefing on what it’s all about — it’s all about balance, balanced man, sound mind, sound body. And he gives this great speech for 10, 15 minutes about the importance of balance. Ben Cronin played for Michigan for a couple years. Seven-footer, massive guy. Beilein’s behind the podium, talking about balance, and is like, “Let me give you an example.” He steps out from the podium, and … he bends his knees, gets down to like a triple threat, and says, “We’re working with Ben Cronin right now, because he’s so tall, to really improve his balance.” And then he brought it back to Sig Ep. It was one of those things where at the time, it was just so surreal. You’ve got John Beilein, in this banquet hall in the Michigan League, talking to a bunch of fraternity guys about balance. And he was telling you about how his 7-foot-tall center needed to improve his balance. At the end of the day, it was just so cool that he took the time to do that.

On graduation day, I was walking out with my family. It’s like a tailgate, there’s 50,000 people around you. And I get this big paw on my left shoulder and I just assume it’s one of my buddies who just caught up to us. It’s Beilein, with his wife. And he just goes, “Alex, just want to congratulate you on graduation. Congratulations.” It was a super short and sweet conversation, but it was a year-plus since I had ever talked to him or covered the team, and the guy talks to a billion people a day, he’s recruiting all these young kids. It just goes to show how good a guy he is. He could have just kept walking.

Andy Reid, 2008-09

My freshman year at Michigan was Amaker’s last, and I got student tickets my sophomore year, and there weren’t even enough student ticket packets sold to cover those 500 bleachers along the one length of the court. It was sad. They went 10-22 and nobody really knew who (Beilein) was and the program had hit such a lull of apathy. Nobody really cared. But he was such a warm and calming figure in a program that had lost all respect. It was exactly what they needed. Just a steady grandpa, basically, to right the ship.

That year, I was really scruffy. I had really long hair. So he would make comments, like, “Looking a little rough there, Andy, huh?” But I was growing it out to try to give it away for Locks of Love, and when he found that out, he was so supportive. Every press conference he’d ask how long it was, how much longer I needed to get it, until I could cut it off and donate it, and I finally got to the minimum length that you had to have it, but it was the minimum length from the base of a ponytail, not just length of hair, so it would’ve been like another year, so I gave up and I cut my hair. And then he let me have it for giving up on my goal. It was over Christmastime, and then the next time I saw him after Christmas, he was like, “Oh, that’s great! It was a gift to the world!” and I had to tell him I didn’t do it. I gave up.

And he’s like, “Oh, well, what did you get for Christmas?”

“Uh, a PlayStation 3.”

And he’s like, “Well, that would be a perfect gift to donate instead of your hair!”

Nicole Auerbach, 2009-10

For our (season preview) feature, I wrote about Beilein in terms of, in high school and him being a teacher and how he approached everything that way and how he teaches basketball and all of those things. To me that really sticks out because I then covered him for the last eight, nine years for national publications and he’s always been the exact same guy. I’ve learned so much because when I’ve been in his office and he’ll diagram some plays or show some things on his coffee table, on his little wooden court with the markers he can move around and stuff. It’s so interesting because I feel like he can teach and explain plays and basketball things in a way that I’m sure he is with his players and he’s such a good teacher. You could totally see him if he was high-school science teacher for the rest of his life. That’s exactly the same person that he is now. That’s just the way he connects with people. I thought he treated us that year at The Daily like we were serious journalists. That matters, to be taken seriously and treated just like the rest of the beat.

I did really like the Beileins and staff and all of these people, and it was just really interesting to cover them in that setting. I called up Patrick and talked to him and I ended up talking to all these, kind of the old-school guys, guys from Buffalo and Canisius and Newfane High School, all of these people who kept up with John with the road trips and games and stayed in touch and all those things so it was very cool. And from there, I built relationships with his wife Kathleen, his son, some of them were my friends in college. Andy (Beilein) was one of my good friends in college. We were in the same major. So I ended up just getting to know the family really well and I just felt like every time I would come back, they were just always so welcoming and also really excited to follow my career that whole time period too. I always loved coming back to Ann Arbor for a work trip because I got to eat at all my favorite places and see all the stuff, but I always loved getting to visit with John Beilein too because it felt like he genuinely cared how my life was going, how my career was going, how relationships were going. Anything. … It was my first coach-reporter relationship, and it was something that ended up being a real cause of enjoyment over the course of my career.

Joe Stapleton, 2009-10

Beilein was a really, unfailingly nice and pleasant guy. He never really lost it on people, like some coaches do. … It was 2014, and it was that year that (Nik) Stauskas was going crazy and Caris (LeVert) was also playing, and he was not playing very well. He was not having a good year, he was kinda finding his way in the offense, I remember asking him a question about that, and he said something like, “People who know basketball know that Caris is doing fine.” He does have a little bit of bite, but that’s so rare, he’s usually so good-natured that it was always kinda weird when he did something like that.

We were on the way to his radio show and I don’t know why I had done this, but I’d cut my hair to a mohawk recently, and he gave me mad shit about the haircut. He consistently gave me shit about my hair. Whether it was my beard getting too long, my hair getting too long, it was very regular that he would comment on how I didn’t seem to take very good care of my appearance and he’s so clean cut. He was always very good-natured, he was never mean about it, but it was always so funny.

I feel like whenever he played anyone, he would always say things like, “I don’t know if we’re gonna see perimeter play that’s that quick again this year.” ... He was always so complimentary of every team they were playing. They never played a bad team. An opposing coach would never say, “Boy, that team sucks,” but Beilein went above and beyond when complimenting the other team.

Former Michigan coach John Beilein led Michigan to two NCAA championship games.

Former Michigan coach John Beilein led Michigan to two NCAA championship games. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Ben Estes, 2010-12

It was a great experience, especially compared to the other beats I had at Michigan and when I was working as a sports writer after college. It was a breath of fresh air, to be honest. He always treated everyone with respect, including Daily kids. There are some coaches and players out there who are more likely to give the time of day to the professional people. Beilein was always good to Daily kids as well as everyone, really. He treated everyone with respect, he knew that we have a job to do and if he didn’t necessarily love dealing with the media all the time, that never really showed, because he was always great to everyone who interacted with him. His press conferences were always interesting. You could always tell that he was, as everyone has said over the years, pretty much a basketball genius.

Even if (something) was kind of a bad question, he would never act like that. Sometimes you just start saying a few words and it would just set him off and he’d go on for minutes and not even necessarily answering exactly what you were trying to ask, but it was always enlightening, no matter what he said. With Daily kids especially, you got the sense that he appreciated that we were doing this as basically a full-time job on top of being a college student.

Him being willing to give me time, that’s really what stands out. I did a feature the first year, I think it ran after the season, but he still talked to me during the season. It was about, this was back when Twitter was still becoming a thing, in terms of the team using it and Beilein using it specifically, and so my thing was about how he used it. ... He told me he wrote all his tweets and I’m not sure if that was true, but even if he didn’t really care about social media that much, he was just willing to take 15 minutes out of his day to talk to me about it. And then the next year, and this was even more of a crazy ask, I did a feature on the Beilein offense, which is much valued, especially those early years before he started switching to just using ball screens a lot. And again, what the hell did I know about basketball or the intricacies of his offense? I learned a bit doing reporting on it, but he was so far above my level of knowledge, but he still invited me to his office and gave me probably 45 minutes, even what I asked for, to just talk about it and was just generous with his time like that and being very, very decent. I’m not sure he ever learned my name or anything, but it didn’t matter.

Former Michigan coach John Beilein speaks with former Michigan daily basketball beat writers.

Former Michigan coach John Beilein speaks with former Michigan daily basketball beat writers. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Luke Pasch, 2010-12

Covering Beilein was awesome. ... It was really those two years when he really turned the program around. Covering him at that juncture was just amazing. We got to see Zack Novak and Stu Douglass in their senior years when they were the real leaders of the team. John Beilein kind of leaned into what it meant for those two to be leaders of the locker room and just took this team of very under-recruited athletes and took them to perennial contenders. John Beilein as a person was just great. I started covering the team my sophomore year and I was nervous, and there was this open practice, one of the first parts of our coverage and he just came over and started shooting the shit with (another beat writer) and I. And he just started talking about completely random things, just all off the mic and he was just a really nice and personable guy.

He was just a really fun grandpa. He always said the funniest things in press conferences. … He would always talk about how crazy it is for teams to be able to come back in games in which they’re down because of the 3-point line. He kept talking about the 3-point line as if it was a new thing. It’s been around for decades. He was just such a fun character to cover and clearly a high-integrity and just a really nice dude.

The last game of the regular season (in 2013) ... Ben (Estes) and I just stayed for a few extra beats and just sat down in the bleachers, just took it all in, because we had become so close to the program, covered the team for two seasons, really covered it during this turnaround moment and just watched the team grow up, really watched Beilein grow more confident as the head coach of this high-major program and kind of institute his culture, really just plant his roots here. It was special.

Neal Rothschild, 2011-14

When my time on the beat ended, it was my senior year, so the season had ended, the players who were gonna declare for the draft either did or announced that they were staying put, and me and another writer, Daniel (Wasserman), who’d been covering the team for a few years, stopped by the arena one day in May just to chat with Beilein, say farewell, say goodbye. He asked what we were doing that summer. He remembered certain details about us from when we asked him questions in press conferences and media availabilities. You can feel like a very big person when you’re in the room and there’s just been a big game that was on ESPN or something and you ask Beilein a question. You kinda figure it’s nothing to him, it’s just a small thing in his day that he barely even notices. The fact that he can process some details about you even if it’s just what year you are in school and something that you’d mentioned a few months ago, that definitely makes you feel cool.

Daniel Wasserman, 2011-14

I think he cared about us. With many journalists, he would stop mid-sentence or mid-answer to ask a question or say he liked your haircut. But there would be press conferences where it would be a midweek game in Minnesota and he would pause to ask how we got there. If we’d make sure to drive safe on the way home. And he actually did let me and one other writer take the team plane the first time that Michigan played Nebraska. It was a January game the first week of the semester, so it’s kind of in that zone where if you’re not at class, you could get kicked out, and he let us actually come on the team plane so that we didn’t have to make the ... drive to Nebraska on a freezing-cold, snowy January night. And I think that said a lot about him. He didn’t have less respect for us, but he also distinguished student journalists from the rest of the journalists in kind of a fatherly way.

Colleen Thomas, 2012-13

My memories that stand out to me for Beilein was that, obviously, he was very friendly, he was open, he wouldn’t avoid any tough subject or question that you would ask. One of the biggest memories I have of Beilein was, he was very visible in the community. I had a lot of friends on campus and they were really involved in the Catholic church at St. Mary’s parish, and I went to one event with them and John Beilein was the speaker and he was there. He talked to every single person that came up to him, took a picture with them afterwards, so outside the team, he was very humble and down-to-earth and friendly with whoever would approach him on campus.

He reminded me of my grandpa. He was the kind of guy you could approach as a close family friend or your grandpa, even. The Final Four we had, it was (Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim) and Gregg Marshall from Wichita State. They had personalities, but Beilein was the total polar opposite of them, so it was very fun to interview all of them. Beilein was awesome to cover. One of my favorite things that he did was at the Final Four, in the locker room, through the tournament game and into the Final Four, he let the assistants come up with a new catchphrase for the game, so Bacari Alexander was one of the assistants and it was like, “We’re gonna cage the Jayhawks,” “We’re gonna juice the Syracuse Orange,” and all these stupid little sayings for the game, but Beilein just let his assistants go with what they wanted and that kind of played into it too because at halftime, he repeated these phrases that Bacari had said pregame, or like, “Play with a chip on your shoulder!” and literally, they put Pringles on each of the jerseys before the games.

Daniel Feldman, 2013-15

I covered the NBA Draft, the 2014 draft. (Mitch) McGary, Stauskas, Glenn Robinson got drafted. Jordan Morgan had graduated. ... I remember just seeing Beilein still sitting in the green room, very closely to the stage, and I figured, oh, maybe he’s just sticking around to make sure when McGary got drafted, because he was tweeting, someone was ghost-tweeting for him every time someone got drafted for Michigan, and I finished up writing up all the beat stories, so those three getting drafted, I more just went down to the green room area or the barrier dividing the media in there and he’s still sitting at the same table that Stauskas was at initially, and I was like, “Why is he still here?” Had no idea. And then I took a photo of him waiting there that randomly blew up on Twitter that was just like, “Wow, he’s still here, what a Michigan man.”

I remember sitting there and I was like, “I need to actually talk to him. He hasn’t actually talked to the media, he’s only been there, I’m just gonna follow him wherever he goes.” It was midway through the second round and I see him get up and go into the bowels of the stadium getting ready to leave and I went out a different way from where he was coming from and I completely lost track of where he went and I legit ran a lap around the basement of Barclays Center trying to be like, “Where is John Beilein? I know he’s somewhere here.” I legit ran around, saw him go into to the bathroom and I was like, “I can’t go into the bathroom and track him down in there,” so I was like, “OK, I’ll wait outside. Hopefully he acknowledges, possibly gives a talk, whatever.”

And then he comes out of the bathroom and legit is just like, “Oh, from The Daily! Yeah, walk with me, I’m about to leave!”

I was like, “Oh, you don’t mind giving the interview?”

He was like, “Oh no, of course not!”

He was walking, had his arm around my shoulder, just walking with me, about to leave and he’s giving all these quotes that are just like, “Oh, I wanted to see Jordan Morgan get drafted but he didn’t, but we had three guys, I have three hats for all the guys that did get drafted, I’m gonna keep them now, it was such a great night for Michigan basketball,” all this.

I’d written columns before that point where you knew from watching the game what you could write about, but you definitely didn’t necessarily know the most straightforward way of writing it, and I feel like I had three minutes of quotes on my recorder from it and I think the column I wrote took me 15 minutes to write and I was like, “I know exactly what I’m writing here.” I had the entire scene set out and everything. That was definitely the highlight of my journalism experience at The Daily.

Simon Kaufman, 2013-16

As a sophomore my first year, it’s just intimidating covering any Division I men’s basketball coach, moreso a future Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach. So I probably didn’t ask him a question for my first several press conferences. But the one thing, and some of this is a credit to Tom Wywrot too, but Tom would always do a good job introducing us to Coach at the beginning of the season, and the one thing that, as a student journalist, was the coolest was (that) Beilein’s just awesome about responding to whoever asked a question, so he’d say your name back in the answer. And as a sophomore covering Michigan basketball, asking John Beilein a question and then his response would be, “Well, you know Simon, the reason I did that—” That’s the coolest thing.

It’s easy for coaches to be jerks in general to the media, and it’s even more easy for them to just disregard student journalists, because to be honest, we don’t really know what we’re doing when we first get there. He always couldn’t have been nicer to The Michigan Daily and student journalists in general. Just to recognize us and call us by name was something I always appreciated. When we were on a road trip, he’d always joke around, like, “Hey, you guys made it again? How long did you drive?”

One thing that stands out to me ... I don’t remember what the question was (but) he starts answering the question and then he kinda goes, “You know what someone told me today, Simon? He told me I’m really good to student journalists. And not every coach is like that.” He kinda tooted his own horn for a second.

I was kind of like, “Yeah.”

And he was like, “And you guys should appreciate that.”

I’m sure I turned bright red and totally forgot my question. They had some road game coming up later that week and I think I was trying to kind of capitalize on the opportunity. I was like, “Coach, yeah, you are respectful, you are really good to student journalists. Would you consider putting us on the plane for the road game this week?”

And he was like, “No, I’m not that good.”

Lev Facher, 2014-16

The stand-up element of the way Beilein treated student journalists was the fact that he didn’t treat them any different from anyone else in the press room. There was a degree of expecting us to rise to the level of everybody else in the room in terms of our professionalism and doing our homework and being prepared in terms of actually belonging in that room. But I think you got the benefit of the doubt unless you proved yourself to have fallen short of that. He was totally happy to engage. He would joke from time to time about how good he was to student reporters, and he wasn’t wrong.

I remember once, I was in the Bahamas with Simon (Kaufman). I don’t know why they sent two of us, it was a totally ridiculous work trip. But Michigan was playing at the Battle 4 Atlantis. With the Daily trips, they bought our flight, they bought our hotel, they weren’t gonna buy our food, that’s just fine. So Simon and I were on a budget. We caught Beilein in the hallway, we were eating big slices of pizza, because it was what we could afford for dinner. He was walking to the game, and he saw us, and he came over and put a hand on each of our shoulders and said, “You guys are really living it up on the Michigan Daily budget, huh?” We were at this fancy resort, and we were eating jumbo slices for dinner. Beilein probably ate a steak.

Max Bultman, 2014-15

So I happened to cover the only season in the last nine years when Beilein didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Just about everything went wrong for Michigan. They lost to Eastern Michigan and NJIT. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. suffered season-ending injuries. But what I will remember about that year, even in what had to be one of the more frustrating seasons of his time at Michigan — following two consecutive Elite Eight appearances — was that Beilein himself was phenomenal to us as very green student reporters.

It was the first time I was covering a team where The Daily wasn’t the only outlet in the press room on most days, which was both exciting and sometimes overwhelming. He always treated us like professionals in press conferences, but also clearly appreciated how new and big it was for us. I most remember the Big Ten Tournament that year, which, by then, was clearly his team’s last shot to make the NCAAs. It was easily the biggest sporting event I had ever covered, and it happened to come with the perk of getting us out of class to go to Chicago before St. Patrick’s Day weekend. After beating Illinois in the first round, Beilein walked by our beat in the bowels of the United Center and told us two things. First, that the team would try to keep prolonging the trip, and second that we better stay away from the Irish bars.

I covered a couple more Big Ten Tournaments down the line, both of which Michigan won, and he was always great to me at those, too. But that first tournament, when they got bumped in the second round, is the one I’ll always remember. We really should have gone to those Irish bars.

Jake Lourim, 2014-15

Everything that everybody hears about him is true. In my experience, he treats media just about as well as any coach, major college or pro. In addition to, I always like when, in addition to just being a nice person, it always seemed to me that when we asked questions, he genuinely thought about the answers, and you don’t get that everywhere. I don’t think any coach particularly likes doing it, or very few do, but you could tell that he understood why he was there and he certainly appreciated the job that we had to do, which was all that we ask.

He was always very orderly and punctual. Toward the end of the year he was maybe 30 seconds late, 2:01 maybe, and he apologized for being late. … He was such a stickler for obeying everything, every guideline. It was the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, Tuesday in late November, and they were playing the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center. The first game, it was one of those 7:00 and 9:30 deals, and the first game went long and then they had to warm up, and beyond that, the tip-off got pushed for ESPN to finish a MAC football game. So the tip-off time got pushed again, 15 minutes, and I don’t think they started until at least 10:15. They had to fly home that night … and he does his whole press conference totally normal and then all the questions are over and he’s about to walk away and then he just lights up, fuming about the tip-off time being moved, and he was just going on and on about how Spike Albrecht had an 8:30 class the next morning and they were gonna have to fly home right then, get home after two, and he was gonna have to get up for class. It was so funny that he was. I think his values are what everybody preaches.

He was even like, “I’m very grateful for ESPN, they’re great for us, I’m very thankful.”

And I was like, “You don’t have to be grateful when you’re ripping them.”

Jacob Gase, 2015-16

The lone season I covered John Beilein for the Daily was a rare forgettable one for the Wolverines, ending with a First Four trip to Dayton and a first-round tournament exit. It flew by so quickly that I never developed much of a personal relationship with Beilein. Six months later, though, after I had already moved onto the football beat, I came to fully appreciate the rare coach he was.

That fall, I went back to a Beilein press conference in the hopes of getting a quick quote from him for a piece the football beat was writing about Dean Cook, a beloved event staff member at Crisler Center who had recently passed away. In the Crisler atrium after the presser had concluded, I watched as Beilein — now finished with his media obligations and free to go on with his day — took the time to stop and ask one writer, with genuine care in his voice, how his young daughters were doing. I then listened as he seamlessly transitioned into an off-the-record debate with another writer about “secret” scrimmages and NCAA rules. And then he finally walked over to me — just a one-year student basketball reporter whose name he probably didn’t even remember — and gave me a succinct, personal quote about Dean Cook’s signature “swag” that was exactly what I needed for our article.

That was John Beilein at Michigan: a coach, a friend, a rule-follower and a family man all at the same time — and a man whose casual use of the word “swag” could never fail to make you smile.

Betelhem Ashame, 2016-17

We were at Big Ten Media Day, and this was a season where the expectations weren’t particularly high. No one really knew what to think of what Michigan was gonna be yet in 2016 and so I actually sat down at the table with Coach B and he was all by himself. There were no other reporters there. I could’ve spent the time just talking about Michigan basketball. It would’ve been maybe helpful as a reporter, but instead, he took a genuine interest in me and wanted to talk about life and knowing that I was from The Daily, he wanted to get to know me as a student journalist and so we talked about stuff about my life, about how my parents immigrated from Ethiopia, about how I was doing a double major while also working at The Daily, all of this stuff that you would think that he would be too busy for. He’d have other things to do. You would think that he wouldn’t really care necessarily, but he really did and he wanted me to feel that he cared that we were putting in so much effort to cover the team. That was a really fun opportunity because when else are you gonna have 15 minutes to talk to the indisputable best coach in program history?

After the Big Ten Tournament, when they won ... we decided to make it a special issue. The cover was, “Those five days,” and then we had a recap of every game of the tournament. And I remember hearing that he specifically requested that several copies were delivered directly to him so that he could have them and keep them and it was just really special because sometimes you don’t realize that this is what they dedicate their lives to and newspapers, you can keep them for posterity, and so it’s incredible to think that for such a family man like him, that’s a thing he could show his children and then his grandchildren and who knows how far down the line. And it’s just really cool that he would think that our work was worthy of that.

Covering Coach B just really taught me that certain people can take ordinary moments, and what you think are little occasions in people’s lives, and they can make those moments significant for other people. He re-energized an entire fanbase by playing the right way, by representing Michigan at such a high level, but just with class and dignity and respect and I think that’s what people will remember him more for, for being a genuinely good person on top of being an incredible coach. It’s not in the day-to-day that you really take note of it sometimes. It’s just on the whole that you realize, “Oh, I just covered a college basketball coach who truly loves the game,” and who makes you feel that same way about it. Even with everything else surrounding the sport, he is what is good about college basketball.

Brandon Carney, 2016-17

He’s an incredibly nice guy. Loves what he does, and he wants to have a positive impact on not only the players and the people he interacts with on a daily basis, but even people like us, who are students ourselves, and are trying to learn — not basketball, like what he’s teaching, but just learn our profession and trade, and he really respects that. I talked to him at the after-season banquet and just approached him and said, “Thanks for being nice to student journalists, and I had an incredible time covering the team.” And he was so genuine about it. Like, I hope you learned something. He even offered to write me a letter of recommendation, which I never took him up on, which is something I regret. But he was a totally normal guy about it.

I had pestered him throughout the season. He had a terrible record against Wisconsin, and I had always asked him, I think they played Wisconsin three times during that season. Like, oh, you have this record against Wisconsin this season, going in with that line of questioning. That was kinda as triggered as I had ever gotten him. He hated talking about Wisconsin. ... We had the postgame scrum after they had beaten Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship. So, like, we were all standing around him, listening to him going through the regular postgame conference, and Tom (Wywrot) taps on the back of my shoulder, because I was right next to him. And he hands me a water bottle, and whispers to me, “Can you hand this to Coach when you have the chance?” And I just waved at him and took it. So Beilein goes on and on and stops to take a sip of water, and then I just handed him the bottle Tom gave me. And I’m like, “Here, Tom gave you this if you need a sip.” He takes it from me, and he’s like, “Thank you very much, but — no more questions about Wisconsin!” And he starts giving me shit about all the Wisconsin questions. ... He’s like, joking around with us. Again, I don’t think that people have these sort of relationships with these big-name coaches anywhere else.

Minh Doan, 2016-17

I was fortunate enough to cover a host of fantastic coaches at Michigan, but John Beilein stands out as someone who could not only command respect, but do it in the kindest way possible. There’s a general consensus that John Beilein was the cleanest coach in the NCAA, and having the pleasure of being able to cover him, it was evident to see why: he cared deeply for everyone, even me, the student journalist who asked way too many dumb questions. 

Kevin Santo, 2016-17

I always appreciated that John cared about student reporters and The Daily as a whole. The first time I ever met him was at Big Ten Media Day, where everyone is clearly itching to get their questions in. But I introduced myself, and he took five minutes to ask about where I was from, joke around about Long Island basketball, and tell me I should be going to church more often. Fast forward a few months, and I walk into the first press conference after Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament. He opened things up by complimenting our coverage and the special covers The Daily had made. I don’t think you have experiences like that too often, and it speaks to how great he was outside the world of basketball.

Former Michigan coach John Beilein compiled a 278-150 record in 12 seasons with the Wolverines.

Former Michigan coach John Beilein compiled a 278-150 record in 12 seasons with the Wolverines. Buy this photo
Evan Aaron/Daily

Mark Calcagno, 2017-18

John Beilein leaned against a wall for a press conference in the concrete underbelly of Madison Square Garden. His Wolverines had just dispatched a loaded Michigan State squad in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals for the second time in the 2017-2018 season.

Naturally, he was a person of extreme interest. Reporters and TV cameras from every notable outlet formed a multi-layered scrum outside Michigan’s locker room. My fellow Daily reporters and I reached the party late and crowded to the side — too far for our phones to pick up consistent audio.  

Spokesperson Tom Wywrot eventually put a stop to the questions, and we put our heads down to discuss story ideas.

A hand tapped my shoulder. It was Beilein.

“You boys staying out of trouble?” he asked.

We were. At least for the most part.

It was a small gesture but one that was telling about the way Beilein treated others during his time in Ann Arbor.

No matter how much success his teams achieved, he was always the same considerate and respectful guy.

Whether it was the simple acknowledgement of our season-long presence in New York or leaving it to The Daily to ask the first question of each press conference, he was consistently courteous to us.

His answers to questions were insightful, honest and, most importantly, of the same vein to those he gave to other outlets.

Beilein treated The Daily like the pros despite our relative inexperience, and it fueled our passion and confidence in our journalistic abilities.

And by all accounts, he was equally pleasant outside media rooms as well.

The day before the Cavaliers’ announcement, I ran into a family friend who owned an Italian restaurant Beilein used to frequent during his days at West Virginia.

He recounted what a pleasure it was to meet Beilein and how they began to form a friendship inside his restaurant. Each story I have heard about Beilein’s interactions in Ann Arbor were equally glowing.

As Beilein turns a new page, I can now appreciate how fortunate I was to have had some of my own with The Michigan Daily.

Max Marcovitch and Mike Persak, 2017-18

The primary reason everyone enjoys covering John Beilein so much is that he treats you like a human. Doesn’t matter if you’re student reporters like us, a professional beat writer, or some person he’s never seen before, he’s going to treat you with empathy and respect you and the job you’re trying to do. It’s simple, really, but it’s also rarer than you might think. Last year, we were somewhere along the run to the Final Four in 2018, and Beilein was conducting a scrum outside the locker room. As it goes, there were dozens of reporters sprawling just to get their recorder in his face, and he was patiently obliging all their questions. When it was all over, the sea of reporters parted, Beilein walked right through the gap to greet his wife, but stopped alongside The Daily basketball beat first, grabbed our shoulders and said, “I hope you guys are behaving yourselves down here.” It was a quick gesture, perhaps meaningless. But the tacit acknowledgment of our existence, and appreciation of our presence, meant a lot.

Another one we’ll share came in Chapel Hill, after UNC absolutely blitzed Michigan in an early season non-conference game. A student reporter (a UNC student, I assume) had this whole question prepared about the pace of Michigan’s offense and how that contrasted with UNC’s fast break approach. Unfortunately, the poor kid described Beilein’s offense as “slow” in the process, and Beilein was having none of it. He spent the next few minutes explaining why his offense is “deliberate” not slow. He cited advanced statistics which conveyed their efficiency. The kid’s face turned bright red. Then, as only Beilein would, he gave the answer this student had been seeking in the first place. But not before he made his point crystal clear: Never call his offense slow.

At the end of that tournament run, after Michigan had been trounced by Villanova, Beilein stood among the reporters and shook hands. He stopped at one of the Daily writers and complimented the job we had done and the growth he had seen in us over the season.

The reason that any of this means anything is because the bar for what matters in interacting with players and coaches shifts as journalists. When you are a fan, simply interacting with your favorite athletes and coaches makes a difference, because that time isn’t typically mandated, and any gesture is meaningful. Beilein’s time with journalists is, obviously, required, just as it is for the players and coaches of all teams. With this, the interviewees have every right to react to and answer questions however they like. Beilein’s choice to be kind and appreciative of us made us feel seen and appreciated in an environment that doesn’t always yield those feelings.

Ethan Wolfe, 2017-18

It is well-documented that John Beilein was a fan of the Michigan Daily kids, a testament typically not shared amongst coaches of Michigan’s most prominent sports. But he knew we were just as good as every other reporter in the room. After the 2018 Sweet Sixteen game in Los Angeles, he went up to us after a press conference and said he was glad we got in safely. His efforts to get us on the team plane fell short, but it was an act so small that made him so different.

Beilein was the human embodiment of “just happy to be here.” Even when his team was on the premier stage of college basketball, the accomplishments were met with bemusement. Like after a meaningless game against Alabama A&M over winter break, where he was disappointed with Michigan’s turnover rate. Or after the NCAA Tournament selection show in 2018, he was just focused on Montana and not the congratulatory texts. He met the media after the National Championship loss with honesty, wishing just to console his players. He was a one-of-a-kind coach in a sport that needs so many more of him. I will always thank him for making a small-time reporter feel important.

Aria Gerson, 2018-19

I still remember the first time John Beilein called me out. We were at Assembly Hall and the microphones weren’t working, so people were just raising their hands and Beilein was pointing to them, like high school. I asked a question that I guess required a few too many specifics, and he said something like, “Arianna, what do you think I’m gonna say to that?” I was mortified at that point, not to mention terrified to correct him that my name wasn’t Arianna.

A month or so later, I was at availability the Friday before spring break and there were only a couple reporters there. It was more intimate than I’d ever seen him be. He talked about how the Cardinals had been doing in Spring Training. He told a story of how he didn’t see the ocean until he was 19, when he went to Florida over spring break with his college friends. Then he looked straight at me and said, “Shouldn’t you be in Daytona Beach right now?”

Later, after the last home game, Beilein thanked everyone for their coverage. He’d built the program from the days when there were only a few reporters covering the team every game to where there were at times upwards of 20. He shouted out The Daily specifically. Then, he said, and I quote, “You don’t ask any more questions, Aria. I didn’t scare you off, did I?”

I could never win. At least he knew my name by then.

But in reality, I’m so thankful to have covered a coach who actually knew my name, who had enough of a rapport with me to be able to poke fun. There was always a sense that he cared for us; I remember one time, during the polar vortex, it was minus-20 outside and he told us to wear earmuffs. It was funny, but it was also genuine, and that’s what I think I’ll miss the most about him. I have a sense that I’ll never cover a coach like that again, but at least I was lucky enough to do it as a raw college sophomore.

So, thanks for constantly roasting me, John Beilein. I appreciate it.

Ethan Sears, 2018-19

It’s hard to speak with perspective a) as a college student, b) about someone I’m still technically covering, so I’ll tell two stories instead, both from this past season. After the last home game, in which Michigan beat down Nebraska, Beilein ended his press conference by talking about the equivalent presser from one of his early years in the job, when Michigan, with no shot of making the NCAA Tournament, lost to Northwestern, with nobody covering the team. That, in Beileinian fashion, transitioned into him thanking the media, and he specifically mentioned The Daily. I’m sure it wasn’t premeditated or anything more than cursory, but going into March with the beat running on fumes post-special edition, it meant a lot.

A few weeks later, after Michigan beat Florida in the second round, myself and another far more established beat reporter stayed behind after his postgame scrum to try and get a few more questions in. Naturally, the other reporter went first, and Beilein started to walk away before I could start talking. I asked if he had a second and the SID with him said no. Then Beilein turned back around and talked with me for an extra minute or two anyway — enough to make my story much better. That’s not something a lot of coaches will do for a student reporter, but he always made time for those type of interactions and it’s the kind of thing that makes a huge positive impact on young reporters.

Jacob Shames, 2018-19

The first word that comes to mind for me, thinking about John Beilein, is “genuine.” It didn’t matter if you were a big-shot national writer or a no-name student journalist like yours truly. His authentic nature ensured I never felt out of place, even though it would have been pretty damn easy for a college kid with three years of experience and barely 400 Twitter followers to do so. At road games and during the postseason, he would check in with us Daily folks to ask if we had made it safely, or lament on our behalf that we had to drive endless hours through the corn-stuffed wastelands of Middle America. Beilein showed he cared about who we were and what we did, and that really went a long way towards my confidence and ability. He understood we weren’t professionals, but he treated us as if we were.

You never felt like anything was off-limits to ask him about, as long as you were well-informed and thought through your line of questioning. I always enjoyed his way of talking about the finer points of coaching basketball, because I feel like it meant that he respected our intelligence. He knew that everybody in the press room was doing a job, but he was going to make sure you learned something at the same time, which not all coaches are willing to do — or even capable. When he stood at the podium, it often felt more like a conversation than a presser, and I really appreciated that aspect of covering him.

I got the sense that Beilein appreciated the importance of every little thing he did. You don’t always expect coaches or players to treat media responsibilities as anything more than a requirement. But Beilein genuinely enjoyed them, and it was easy to tell. He always had thoughtful, respectful answers to questions, and while he told you if he felt the question wasn’t terrific, it was done constructively, and the way he gently razzed reporters in that situation brought levity. I remember a pregame presser during which Beilein had called an experienced reporter out for a “bad question” earlier. He joked at the end that the reporter looked like “some kid from The Michigan Daily on his first day.” It probably should have mortified me. The reason it didn’t was because I knew that the reason Beilein could poke fun at anything and anyone was because he genuinely respected them as equals.