Another former Mountaineer will be joining Jevon Carter and Tarik Phillip among the ranks of the NBA. The only difference is he’s not a player as former Mountaineer men’s basketball coach John Beilein was announced as the next head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers by general manager Koby Altman this morning. After nearly thirty years and 571 wins in Division I basketball, Beilein will attempt to test his mettle at the game’s highest level with a team facing one of the biggest turnaround efforts in the league.
Beilein appears to be in line for very comfortable compensation after signing a five-year contract that is expected to exceed his $3.37 million salary at Michigan. It was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that GM Altman has been keeping an eye on Beilein for a while and he had glowing praise for his new head coach in the team’s release this morning, saying, “John is one of the most accomplished and innovative basketball minds and leaders in the entire game. He has a unique ability to create an outstanding culture that will promote the development of young players and provide a solid structure to the entire program” The Cavaliers organization has been using the term “culture driver” in reference to Beilein and expect that he will be able to use the leadership skills he has developed over the years to turn around the spirits in a franchise that has become apathetic and lost since LeBron James’ departure to Los Angeles. Beilein himself said as much in the release, stating, “With hard work and dedication by all of us, we will grow this team day by day and reinforce a culture of success that sustains itself with strong core values.”
While Beilein may not stand out as an obvious choice for an NBA job, his fit with the Cavaliers is a better one than many onlookers may think. An offensive pioneer in his own right, Beilein was on the forefront of the mid-2000s movement that would ultimately result in the wide use of the “pace and space” style of play and the “positionless basketball” popularized by teams like the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. He also coached one of the first nationally known stretch big men while at WVU in Martinsburg native Kevin Pittsnogle. It is not just his strategic prowess that led Cleveland to hire the 66-year old as their head man. Many WVU fans will recall Koby Altman’s right-hand man as ex-Mountaineer cager Mike Gansey. A key piece of Beilein’s program after transferring to WVU from St. Bonaventure, Gansey has been a rising star in the Cleveland organization since 2011 and was promoted to an assistant general manager when Altman replaced David Griffin. In addition to his ties to Gansey, it is well-known that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, a stalwart in the Detroit business scene and avid Michigan State Spartan fan, has long admired Beilein’s coaching ability despite the malice of Big 10 conference rivalry.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a long road ahead of them if they wish to have a fruitful second life after LeBron. The team. finished 19-63 this past season under Larry Drew and have a fourteen percent chance to obtain the first overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. Thankfully for Cleveland fans’ sake, their new head coach is not unfamiliar with rebuilding a program. He entered a program at WVU that was in shambles after the chaos that was Gale Catlett’s departure from the university. Beilein followed up Dan Dakich’s six-day stint in Morgantown and would stay for the next five years. In that time he took a team facing scandal and possible NCAA sanction and after two rebuilding seasons took the program to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in back to back years as well as an NIT Championship in his final season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers certainly made a splash by hiring John Beilein as their head coach. The former Mountaineer leader has coached at nearly every level the game has to offer and will now look to ply his trade at the pinnacle of the game. If there is one thing WVU fans know about John Beilein, it is that he will attack every day of this new job with unmatched tenacity and passion. Only this time, he’s being guided by one of his greatest pupils as well.