Michigan basketball coach John Beilein agreed to a three-year extension last week that will keep him in Ann Arbor through the 2018-19 season. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — John Beilein has thought about retirement, sure.
But if you ask the 60-year-old basketball lifer now whether he’ll finish his nomadic coaching career at Michigan, he can honestly give you the same answer he gives blue-chip recruits. And the same answer, not coincidentally, he gets from many of those same high school players when he asks about their interest in the Wolverines.
“This was big,” said Beilein, who last week agreed to a three-year extension at Michigan that’ll run through the 2018-19 season
This was no big surprise, mind you. Not after Beilein led Michigan to its first Final Four appearance in 20 years last spring and fourth NCAA Tournament berth in five years after a 10-year drought.
But, Beilein turned 60 in February, he never has been at a Division I program longer than five years and, yes, stability still is part of the recruiting pitch, even in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of college basketball.
“Just looking at the long range, they want to see who’s gonna be coaching,” said Beilein, fresh off a two-week trip overseas with USA Basketball at the World University Games, where he learned to give thanks in Russian (“Spasibo”), served as an assistant for the first time in his career and shared a dorm room with — talk about strange bedfellows — South Carolina coach Frank Martin. “So it’s important — it is important.”
Not nearly as important as the exposure Michigan enjoyed last season, rising to No. 1 in the national polls for the first time since the last time Chris Webber was allowed to be associated with the program, and then advancing to the NCAA championship game in Atlanta.
Beilein’s not allowed to talk to recruits on the road at the moment — rules are rules — but on the phone, it’s an easy conversation starter: Did you see us in the title game?
“The (response) is, ‘Of course,’ ” Beilein said. “Are you interested in Michigan? Of course.”
It’s a far cry from the recruiting chore when Beilein first arrived in 2007, amid considerable skepticism about both the program’s standing and his own ability to raise that profile. One of his favorite anecdotes — he can laugh about it now — has to do with his very first recruit, Ben Cronin, who asked Beilein, “Was Michigan ever good in basketball?”
“Because he’d started watching (ESPN’s) ‘SportsCenter‘ in 1999 or something,” Beilein said, “and that’s when we went into a little hiatus from postseason play.”
A little hiatus is a polite way to describe the decade that preceded his tenure. But the fact that Michigan’s coach no longer has to talk about it — and the fans don’t, either — at least partly explains why athletic director Dave Brandon made it clear Beilein can stay as long as he likes.
“I wouldn’t say there was any big negotiations,” the coach said, adding that his athletic director’s only real question to him after the season was, essentially, “ ‘How long would you like to do this?’ ”
“At least,” said Beilein, whose $2.45 million annual compensation package puts him on a par with Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan behind the Big Ten’s top three — Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Tom Crean (Indiana) and Thad Matta (Ohio State).
“Obviously, I love what I’m doing right now,” Beilein continues, “and who knows where this all goes.”
Tuesday, I asked him if he remembered how much his first coaching job paid. I was pretty sure he knew the answer, and I was right. In fact, Beilein sounded like he still has the pay stubs at home.
“I was paid $7,900 at Newfane High School, teaching five different prep (courses) and coaching football, basketball and baseball,” he said, smiling.
His first college job at Erie Community College in upstate New York paid him $12,000 in 1978, “and then I got a big bump to $22,000 at Nazareth (College).” He finally struck it rich a decade later with his first Division I job at Canisius, where he earned $50,000 and no longer had to drive his team to road games in a passenger van.
“And you know what?” Beilein said. “I was blessed for every opportunity all the way along the line.”
This last one, though? Well, he’s happy to say it’ll be the end of the line.
Eventually, of course.