CLEVELAND — John Beilein didn’t make it through one NBA season. Another college coaching dropout.
Wildly successful at Michigan and other stops in his coaching career, Beilein resigned Wednesday after just 54 games with the rebuilding Cavaliers, who can’t seem to find the right person to lead their team.
The 67-year-old Beilein never got comfortable during his short stint in the pro game. The demands of travel, lack of practice time and a group of players who didn’t respect him or respond to his coaching style proved to be too much, so he decided to move on before the team returned from the All-Star break.
“This was a very difficult decision for me, but I want to be clear — this was my decision to step down and I truly appreciate the understanding and support of the front office during this time,” Beilein said in a statement released by the team. “I find losing very challenging and this year has taken a much bigger toll on me than I expected. I grew concerned for the consequences this toll could potentially take on my own health and my family’s well-being down the road.
“I was not certain I could be at my best for the remainder of the season and in the future. That would not be fair to the players, coaches and support staff.”
The Cavs went just 14-40 under Beilein, who the Cavaliers signed to a five-year contract last May. The team said he will be reassigned to a different role within the organization. At this point, Beilein’s next role is still being discussed but his college connections would make him invaluable in draft preparation.
Associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will take over for Beilein. The team is still working through some contract language for Bickerstaff, who had become the preferred sounding board for Cleveland’s players. He has head coaching experience after nearly two full seasons in Memphis and one with Houston.
Bickerstaff took over the Rockets 11 games into the 2015-16 season when Kevin McHale was fired. He led them to a 37-34 record and a playoff appearance, but took his name out of consideration to be the next full-time Houston coach after the season.
Almost from the start of training camp there were issues for Beilein in Cleveland. The Cavs didn’t embrace Beilein’s practice methods — he had his big men doing grade-school level fundamental “Mikan” drills — and players grumbled that he was treating them like kids and not paid professionals.
All the losing had an effect on Beilein, who more than once acknowledged he was feeling beaten down by his team’s struggles.
Beilein said he wouldn’t being stepping down if the Cavs didn’t have a succession plan in place with Bickerstaff. Beilein is also looking forward to the chance to reconnect with his family.
“For 45 years and more than 1,300 games, my journey as a basketball coach has been a dream come true,” he said. “I have never been afraid of a challenge and have given each one my all — sometimes to the detriment of my own well-being.”
Cavs general manager Koby Altman stood by Beilein throughout his tenure. But as the All-Star break approached, it became evident that a change was necessary in order to salvage a season that from the start was devoted to developing the Cavs’ core of young talent, which includes guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland along with forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Cedi Osman.
Beilein is not the first high-profile college coach to flop in the NBA. Kentucky’s John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Tim Floyd, Mike Montgomery and P.J. Carlesimo are among a group who found coaching at the highest level problematic.
“While it’s unexpected, we understand and respect his decision to step down as head coach of the Cavaliers,” Altman said. “I was excited about the development of our young players, who have all shown growth and maturity under coach Beilein. ... The NBA is a unique business that sometimes requires aggressive risk-taking on important long-term decisions to move a franchise forward and ultimately compete for championships.”
Beilein’s departure continues a troubling pattern for the Cavs, who have been plagued by coaching instability and nearly constant change over the past few years. Bickertstaff is Cleveland’s seventh coach since 2013.
While the Cavs didn’t make things easy on Beilein, he didn’t help himself, either. During a team meeting in Detroit last month, he inadvertently called his players “thugs” when reviewing game film. Beilein apologized for the remarks, but the incident caused a larger wedge between him and the players.
Beilein’s personal life also played a part in his struggles as he was hit hard by his son Patrick’s resignation as coach at Niagara. The younger Beilein cited personal reasons for leaving the program.
It’s not clear what will be next for Beilein, who went 571-325 at Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan. He took the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament nine times in 12 seasons.
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