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The Cavaliers Just Stunned the Basketball World by Hiring John Beilein

Michigan’s former boss becomes the fifth coach to jump straight from the college level to the pros since 2010. Is he the right choice to lead Cleveland in the franchise’s post-LeBron world?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In perhaps the most stunning move of the young 2019 NBA coaching carousel, John Beilein has been hired as the new Cavaliers head coach. Cleveland handed the 66-year-old a five-year contract, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi, to leave his post at the University of Michigan, where he went 278-150 after taking over in 2007. Beilein is known as a brilliant offensive mind and his Wolverines teams excelled in recent years: Dating back to the 2012-13 campaign, they reached the Sweet 16 five times and the national championship game twice.

Now Beilein will be asked to steward a Cavs rebuilding process that got off to a bumpy start following last summer’s free-agent departure of LeBron James. Cleveland fired head coach Tyronn Lue just six games into the 2018-19 season and left assistant Larry Drew in charge the rest of the way. The team finished 19-63 and enters this week as one of three franchises with a 14 percent chance of securing the no. 1 overall pick (and the right to select Zion Williamson) in June’s NBA draft. Beilein will have young talent (led by 2018 draft pick Collin Sexton) to work with, and perhaps the financial flexibility required to retool this roster effectively. The Pistons’ lack of such flexibility reportedly played a role in Beilein passing up an in-state move to Detroit in 2018.

From an NBA standpoint, this makes for a fascinating experiment. Beilein becomes just the fifth coach to jump straight from college to the pros since 2010. (The others: Brad Stevens, Fred Hoiberg, Billy Donvan, and Mike Dunlap—although Dunlap had served as an assistant for the Nuggets a few years prior.) And while college coaches often garner buzz in the NBA rumor mill, Beilein was far from the most frequently floated name. Kentucky’s John Calipari, Kansas’s Bill Self, and Villanova’s Jay Wright all seemed more likely to land an NBA contract than Beilein. Even Beilein’s flirtation with the Pistons was widely perceived as a leverage play; after all, he signed a sizable contract extension with Michigan shortly thereafter last July.

To that end, this is a devastating blow to the Michigan fan base. Before Beilein arrived, the Wolverines had missed the NCAA tournament in nine consecutive seasons; under his guidance, they emerged as one of the most consistent programs in the nation and experienced several iconic moments. Michigan is and will always be a football school, but over the past decade Beilein’s teams regularly outshined Jim Harbaugh’s. A cruel twist for the Ann Arbor faithful: Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is a Michigan State alum.

Cleveland’s basketball fortunes have nowhere to go but up. It just brought in a coach with a history of rising up the ranks, as over the past 40-plus years Beilein has gone from Newfane High School in New York to the pros, making stops at community college and Division I and II programs along the way. The Cavs’ rebuilding efforts are now in the hands of an amateur basketball lifer. How high can Beilein take them?