Michigan coach John Beilein's system relies more on guards and mobile, shooting big men and doesn't seem to fit in the Big Ten, where traditionally, teams have a grinding, physical style. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
Ann Arbor -- Thursday's victory over rival Michigan State was the biggest of the season for the Michigan men's basketball team, and probably the biggest of coach John Beilein's tenure in Ann Arbor. It gave a brief reprieve to the struggling Wolverines, who had lost six straight before the upset win.
The victory also quieted some of Beilein's critics -- at least for a day.
Many of Beilein's critics compare him to former U-M football coach Rich Rodriguez, who also came to Ann Arbor after coaching at West Virginia. Beilein's system relies more on guards and mobile, shooting big men and doesn't seem to fit in the Big Ten, where traditionally, teams have a grinding, physical style.
But here's the news for Beilein's detractors: He isn't going anywhere. Beilein's contract, the progress he has made this season and the upcoming improvements at U-M should keep him in Ann Arbor for at least two more seasons.
"I can tell you that, if I were in charge, I would not make a change," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "John is doing a very good job and it's something that will take some time to do the right way and the way that Michigan expects. Nobody wants to wait; everybody wants it right now. He wants it right now."
Although Beilein's record in three-plus seasons at Michigan is 58-62, he never has had a losing coaching record at any school. In 2009, his second season at U-M, Beilein guided the Wolverines to a 21-14 record and back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 seasons, with a first-round win over Clemson. Michigan's 11-win turnaround tied a school record for the largest single-season turnaround.
The MSU win comes just after a stretch of disappointing losses at Indiana and Northwestern and close losses to Ohio State, Kansas and Minnesota.
"Hopefully in the next few weeks, we can build some momentum," athletic director Dave Brandon said last week. "I guarantee you they're going to beat people they shouldn't beat. This team is only going to get better. I understand people get frustrated and have to point the finger at somebody. You have to be realistic. I am."
After this season, Beilein still has five more years left on his contract extension, which was signed in 2009, before athletic director Dave Brandon took over.
Beilein is due $1.7 in salary this season, which is around the median of coaches in the Big Ten. His salary increases to $1.8 million the next two seasons, before escalating to $1.9 million in the final three years.
Beilein's predecessor, Tommy Amaker, had six years to try to turn the program around.
"Amaker got six years, and John's in his fourth and I don't think four years is long enough for any coach, especially in today's game," Bilas said. "He's still in the process of building that program in the image he wants it."
For fans who want a new coach, they'll have to first consider the cost.
A copy of Beilein's contract, obtained by The Detroit News through the Freedom of Information Act, calls for Beilein to be paid $3 million if he is fired by U-M this season. The cost of his buyout over the following seasons also has assigned values:
*2011-12: $2.3 million
*2012-13: $1.6 million
*2013-14: $1.2 million
At what point is it too cost-prohibitive to move in a different direction? Who would be the successor?
Change is coming
With the Player Development center set to be complete this fall and the pending renovations to Crisler Arena, U-M will be able to compete on equal footing with the top teams in the conference, such as Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue.
Many fans want them to go after more top national recruits and to compete with the elite national programs in getting top-tier talent. But with sophomore Darius Morris, freshmen Tim Hardaway Jr., Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, Beilein has a nucleus of talent that will get better in the next two years or so.
"Certainly Tim Hardaway Jr. is a steal and he's going to be a very good player. Morris is just a sophomore and they have some other nice young kids," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said.
But Beilein can't stop there -- he has to continue to go after top talent that will help U-M improve.
"We're always looking to try and get the best players that we believe fit the University of Michigan, fit our team chemistry and fit how we want to play," Beilein said. "We've just got to keep working to try to get them."
But patience will be the key for Michigan fans. Next year, the Wolverines will get two more guards, Carlton Brundidge (Southfield) and Trey Burke (Columbus, Ohio). With added scoring and ballhandling, U-M will become a more formidable team, added to the existing core, which is all scheduled to be back next season. Beilein also has another scholarship available for a 2011 recruit.
"We live in an instant-gratification society. It's not realistic to go on the road in the Big Ten and win with freshmen and sophomores. They need to know how to play hard," basketball analyst Tim McCormick said. "Freshmen have absolutely no clue how to play defense and sophomores typically are not very good. But when you have juniors and seniors, they're starting to buy in and then you've got a defense that can win on the road."
In two years, the practice facility will be built, Crisler Arena will be renovated and with experienced upperclassmen at the core, Beilein will have one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
Only then should his success or failure be judged.