He can joke about it now, sitting in a comfortable chair in his new office at Crisler Arena, answering questions about what he can accomplish as head men’s basketball coach at Michigan.
But in 1990, as John Beilein drove more than three hours from Colgate back to Division II LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., he couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever make it out of upstate New York.
Colgate, coming off a 1-24 season, was one of the worst Division I teams in the nation. Beilein had been head coach at LeMoyne for seven seasons and was desperately searching for a job that would help him climb the coaching ladder. And he knew leading a Division I program was the next rung.
Beilein went to Hamilton Springs, N.Y., for a formal interview and left feeling confident that he had impressed Colgate officials. He believed they couldn’t pass him up. The Colgate job would be the culmination of 15 years toiling in the high school, junior college and Division II ranks.
But when Beilein didn’t get the job with one of the worst Division I basketball programs at the time, he had to face the realization that at 37, he was stuck in Division II with no promotion in sight.
“It was the saddest couple days of my life,” Beilein said. “I went back to Buffalo to see my mom and dad, and I went and just thought things through. I said, ‘If you never can get to Division I (job), it’s OK. Coaching is coaching, and let’s just coach and not worry about trying to get to Division I.’ “
Seventeen years later, Beilein still doesn’t worry about it. He’s gotten past the rejection, and he now holds one of the most prominent positions in one of the most prestigious athletic departments in the nation.
Back then he sought refuge in his family. And it’s family that’s gotten Beilein to where he is today.
All you need is love
Talk to anyone about the type of person John Beilein is and you hear a variation of the same thing. Phrases like “a man of great integrity,” “still humble” and “well-liked by all” are thrown around. But if you want to get to the core of Beilein, the answer is simple: family man.
When Canisius needed a new head coach in 1992 – just two years after the Colgate debacle – Beilein’s family ties put him over the top. He beat out current ESPN analyst and former Vermont head coach Tom Brennan for the job.
“In every coaching search, you’re looking for integrity, and you know with somebody like John Beilein you’re hiring integrity,” said John Maddock, an associate athletic director at Canisius who served on the search committee that helped hire Beilein. “John was a local person who had a lot of ties to college. He was somebody who is going to play by the rules, do things the right way and at the same time win. He’s a white-collar family guy who just rolls up his sleeves and gets things done.”
And it is his family who teaches you the most about Beilein. He is straightforward in interviews -nary a clich