Tuesday night against Norfolk State, Michigan coach John Beilein will begin his 41st season as a collegiate head coach. Along the way, he has collected 799 career victories, from Erie Community College to his current 11-year tenure with the Wolverines. Ahead of his 800th win, The Michigan Daily spoke to former players, assistants and opponents to learn about their experiences with Beilein.
Patrick Beilein, son; guard, West Virginia, 2002-06; graduate assistant, Michigan, 2008-10
I would just remember always being excited to go to the gym with him for practice or a game. I remember if I couldn’t go to a game with him because it was too late on a school night, I would give him a toy, one of my favorite toys that I thought would give luck, and he would put it in his suit. So that was just big growing up, we looked forward to the basketball season because we would be able to go to the games, practice but also be around the game that I obviously grew up to love.
Once I got older, once I got into high school, I was able to play with the University of Richmond guys in the summer and in the spring. So that was good for my development. But at a young age, my brother and I, we would just be there at the gym, and we’d be on the side, whether dribbling a ball or chasing each other around, getting into trouble. So that’s how it was.
It was great (playing for him), I called him ‘Dad’ on the sideline all the time just cause that was the relationship we had. My favorite moment, like kinda a son-father moment, was going into my sophomore year, he pulled me aside. And I thought I had a decent freshman year, he had brought in new guys, and I was kinda going through the motions to begin the start of sophomore year because I played my freshman year, I thought I was a big shot. He pulled me to the side and said, ‘When’s the last time you’ve taken a charge, dove for a ball, boxed somebody out so hard that they fell over? Would you stop being a pretty boy and play the game the way you were taught to play?’ After that, I know that practice, I had blood everywhere it seemed like. ’Cause he was my father figure at the time and said, ‘You’re better than this,’ and that I disrespected him. So that was my favorite moment, and I never looked back from that.
Isaiah Livers, forward, Michigan, 2017-present
Coach (Beilein) is an amazing coach. I’ve never met any coach like this, especially on the visit, how he carries himself and what he stands for. He cares about the players so much to the point where, if you make the decision to stop playing basketball, just give him a reason — just give him a good, constructive reason, and he’ll support you all the way no matter what. That’s just insane to me, like he cares more about your school than your basketball career.
(The first time I met him), we talked about baseball. I was a huge baseball fan. I loved baseball, baseball was my first love. And I think when we connected on baseball, that took our relationship to another step.
Ignas Brazdeikis, forward, Michigan, 2018-present
He was exactly the same (during the recruiting process) as he is now, that’s the one thing I absolutely love about him. Everything he said, everything he told me was the same and he was just an honest guy. Like really, really honest and he never lied and I felt like I could trust him.
Saddi Washington, assistant coach, Michigan, 2016-present
Man, it’s been awesome (working with Beilein). I think that the biggest thing that you learn under coach Beilein is just, he’s an excellent CEO. But even more than that, he’s just a great person, you know? And I think the genuineness that he treats everybody with and the authenticity that comes across when he engages not just our players or recruits but our kids, our spouses and everybody in between. And I think, if anybody is deserving of the accolades that he gets, certainly it’s coach Beilein.
His attention to detail in every aspect of the program is like none other. And I think that’s why we’re able to operate with great efficiency, both on and off the court. I think that’s a huge strength of his that I hope that I am able to absorb and acquire moving forward.
Austin Davis, forward, Michigan, 2016-present
It’s really been amazing (playing under Beilein). I feel like he’s one of the few coaches that genuinely focuses on bettering each one of us as a man, not just as a player but as a man, and for the rest of our lives. He really, really instills a lot of our core values into us and makes sure that we always consider those and live every day by those. So I think he’s a great coach to play for and wouldn’t have wanted to play for anybody else.
Moritz Wagner, forward, Michigan, 2015-18
He was always really hard on me, and I — something I felt I was the blame for everything. But after my sophomore year, I understood that was the way he wanted to get me better. … It was for my sake. He sees the potential in you, and eventually I committed to that and said, ‘Ok, whatever. I know what you’re doing, so let’s work together.’ I don’t really know if I have a specific story but that’s just what I’ve experienced. Coach Beilein really cares about his players. I still have a really good relationship with him, try to talk to him as much as I can. And yeah, it was the best decision of my life to go there, 100-percent.
DJ Wilson, forward, Michigan, 2014-17
He’s a great person. That’s one of the sole reasons why I chose to go to Michigan, just him and his staff at the time. I just felt like they were genuine people, me and my family both got that vibe, it was kinda just natural. Then, just playing under him, he stuck with me when he coulda went elsewhere, he had other players to recruit. He never really recruited over me, he just stuck with me and everything worked out for the both of us. So that speaks to his character and the type of person he is.
I thought he was a great guy, I thought he was real genuine. Like I said, that’s something that I kinda observed. Especially, you know, going into college, as far as what I was looking for in a coach because, I don’t know, it’s kinda like you plan on being with that coach for the next four years so you kinda just want to look for somebody that you can relate to and be real down to earth. Because you’re gonna spend a while with them so that’s a vibe I got from him.
I think it’s just all around with everything that he does. He plays by the rules, he never does anything in any grey area, he’s honest, he’s a man of his word. And then, I just talked to a few players at Michigan at the time when I was on my visit and they kept it real, they kept it honest with me, and they had nothing but good things to say about him.
Spike Albrecht, guard, Michigan, 2012-16
I played AAU with Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson, and they were both already committed to Michigan at the time. So my AAU coach, when he started catching wind of this Trey Burke situation, he reached out to coach Beilein like ‘Hey, I got a guy you should look at for a point guard, just like insurance policy, basically, if Trey leaves. And he was like ‘Hey, he doesn’t really look the part but you should go give him a call or go see him.’ Coach Beilein told me I didn’t pass the eyeball test, is what he told me. He still tells a story, when he came in, he did an in-home visit with me back at my house in Crown Point and he got out of the car and was walking up, I came outside to come say ‘hi’ and greet him, welcome him into my house. But, like, my driveway’s kinda on a slant so he, like, got out, and I was on the low end, and he was looking at me, and he was like, ‘Holy shit, who is this little dude. Like, I can’t believe I’m gonna recruit this kid to play in the Big Ten.’
But even if I was a big-time recruit and had all those other schools, man, Coach Beilein was just an awesome dude. He was super genuine. And I could just tell he was a first-class guy. He genuinely cares about his players. And I could just feel that throughout my recruitment with him. And he was honest and up front. I mean, he told me I’d probably never play more than five or 10 minutes a game, honestly, in my career at Michigan. But hey man, that’s cool, don’t give me bullshit. So I respected that.
Frank Young, forward, West Virginia, 2003-07
My sophomore year, I was still struggling to still find a lot of playing time. I remember he said to me in practice, ‘Frank you are doing really well. I’m going to find a way to get you on the floor. Keep working hard.’ I use that in coaching now when talking to players.
I did believe him. And I did get more playing time later in my sophomore year. He was always direct and honest in any situations prior so I had no reason to not believe him.
Some other coaches always say things you want to hear to get what they want for example. Coach Beilein has never been like that. He’s always been himself and that has made him so successful.
Mike Gansey, guard, West Virginia, 2004-06
I remember my junior year, we started off 10-0 and then we were like 2-6 in the Big East and we were really struggling. And every single day, he came in with the most energy. All of us are looking at ourselves like, ‘Man, we can’t win a game, we had a perfect season going and then it went down the dumps.’ But he motivates you and he’s so positive and he just lifts you up when you’re basically down at the worst point you can get to. And that whole year it was just like, ‘Man, we have no chance to get to the tournament now, we’ve pissed away the year,’ whatever we wanted to say. And he just, every single day, he’s so positive. He’s not gonna come in screaming and yelling. He’s just, ‘Hey, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Today, we’re gonna get better, tomorrow, we’re gonna get better. Each day we gotta get better and something good’s gonna happen out of this.’ And little did we know, we’d get to the elite eight. So I always look back at that one year, we were so bad in mid-January, but we just kept working. And Coach wouldn’t let us put our head down, he wouldn’t let us settle for not working as hard as we can, not doing the little things. And it just clicked and obviously all the credit goes to him because we could have just quit.
Jeff Neubauer, assistant coach, Richmond/West Virginia, 1996-2005
Basketball-wise — even though I played for a great coach, and I worked for other coaches, and I’ve been a head coach for 14 years — 90-percent of what we do is from John Beilein. So, I learned a lot working for him and I was very fortunate to get to work for him early in my career.
First of all, looking back on it, just the fact that he is so pure as far as his understanding of the rules and the way that we were made to go about it working for him. We weren’t even going to give the impression that we were breaking a rule. So that’s the most important thing. But then, from a basketball standpoint, I saw him, in my first year with him, take a group of guys that had never won and he just breathed this magic into them and made them into winners.
One of the assistants actually had a phrase, he would call it being ‘Jordaned.’ And what was meant was, sometimes coach would just take over. Like, you’d be at the basket, and you’d be coaching your drill and then you’d get ‘Jordaned.’ Coach Beilein would just come in and take over like Jordan would do late in the game. And it was just something you understood.
He coached at LeMoyne in Syracuse, and there was a gentleman whose name was Teddy who worked in the building at LeMoyne. And I believe Teddy was a janitor and at least twice when we were up at Syracuse playing games, Coach Beilein had the bus go by Teddy’s house and pick him up and then Teddy would ride with us to the game. And it was a person that Coach Beilein kinda looked after when he was at LeMoyne and then he continued to take care of him decades later.
Both Richmond and West Virginia, when we were up there at Syracuse, the bus would go over to Teddy’s house and pick him up. I think Teddy was the janitor in the gym at LeMoyne and so after games, coach Beilein would give Teddy a ride home back when he was the LeMoyne coach. And so, he kinda continued it when we were up there playing Syracuse.
Scott Ungerer, guard, Richmond, 1998-2002
We had a rule at Richmond that if someone on the team got a technical foul, they had to run a 17 (17 side-to-side sprints in one minute). I remember one time Coach (Beilein) got a technical during a game and at our practice the next day, he started things off by running a 17!
Tom Izzo, head coach, Michigan State, 1995-present
I can’t say we talk about basketball, but we talk about other things. We talk about his pontoon boat that he built up there, and he talks about mine over in the west side. And we talk about some people we know and now that we’ve both been in the league a lot, you know, a lot of things basketball-related — what’s going on in the state of college basketball. He’s on committees, I’m on committees. So it’s a very, I’d say good relationship.
Well, I think what makes this unique is, usually in the rivalry, there isn’t this much respect, that’s just the way it is. That’s part of being a rivalry. I don’t know why, it’s just happened. I had great respect for him when he was at West Virginia, what he did there. Happened to be out there with my son one time when my son was probably five-years-old and he was really good to him and that’s where it started. So, when things have happened, he’s been supportive of me and I think when he got sick, I was supportive of him.
I just had (my son) out there at an AAU event and John was there and he just sat with us and that’s where I learned he was just a regular guy. That’s kinda what I hope I am, just a regular guy that enjoys what we do and tries to make life better for other people, and that’s what he did for my son that day.