John Beilein: Pistons job tempting, but 'I love Michigan'

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
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Michigan coach John Beilein said the Pistons head-coaching job was tempting but, in the end, "I love Michigan."

There’s never a right time.

But for Michigan coach John Beilein, it nearly was to take the next step to the NBA.

He interviewed and met with the Detroit Pistons for their head coaching vacancy last week before pulling his name from the running and announcing he was staying at Michigan on Wednesday.

"I don't want anyone to have any idea — they did not offer me the job,” Beilein said Friday morning on “The Michigan Insider" on WTKA 1050 AM. “I got so much respect for the Pistons organization. By the way, I love (former Pistons coach/president) Stan Van Gundy and in this business, it's crazy. You get some injuries and it's a big difference. Remember the year we lost three guys to the pros and we had Derrick (Walton Jr.) and Caris (LeVert) out? What happened at Michigan? They gave me an extension.

“Stan goes through this (he’s fired), but that's the NBA world. He loses Reggie (Jackson) and all of a sudden, they could be in the playoffs with four or five more games. I got a lot of respect for them. There was mutual interest for a few weeks, and then I just felt a couple of things. They have some great options, I have a wonderful option. Let's just stop and move forward because I love Michigan."

More: Detroit hosts NCAA in first big pitch for Final Four

Beilein said the Pistons’ job was enticing for several reasons — and none of them had to do with money.

He liked the direction the franchise was heading and the team that was being assembled, led by the core of Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Jackson.

Then there was the challenge and intrigue of coaching in the NBA and doing something people said he couldn’t. It was a situation he compared to Charles Matthews testing the NBA Draft waters and wanting to go pro after being told he might not be ready because “he wanted to prove something to people that don’t think it’s right.”

“I had a very good college coach — who I’m not going to say his name — come up to me when I came to Michigan and say, 'Are you crazy? Why are you going to a train wreck like Michigan?’” Beilein said. “I said, 'That's exactly why I came to Michigan.' That's what we like to do. So, those things sometimes are motivating.”

He added he talked with Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan — two coaches who have thrived in the NBA after making the jump from college — at length. 

The fact NBA coaches actually have downtime and aren’t tirelessly working year-round like college coaches was appealing, as well as the notion he wouldn’t have to uproot and move away from his family with the Pistons.

“I love Michigan. I love Ann Arbor. I love our place up north,” Beilein said. “This made sense. If you're going to look at it, this was the time. There's never a great time. Look at this class we got coming in.

"But at the same time, if it was the class when just Moe (Wagner) was coming in, it's the same deal. I looked Moe in the eye and said I plan to coach you in your career, but plans change. And it might've changed. It didn't. I'm really happy.”

More: Celtics' Brad Stevens lauds UM's John Beilein as 'one of the best'

Beilein noted athletic director Warde Manuel wanted to talk about a contract extension as soon as Michigan’s season ended in the national title game on April 2. But with Michigan playing the whole month of March, Beilein asked to put it on hold so he could go out recruiting for the 2019 class.

When the two parties finally met, Beilein said it was around the time the Pistons started making changes and had already contacted him.

“(Manuel) made a very lucrative offer to me and I said, timeout, this is just what happened. Can we sit on this for a little bit?” Beilein recalled. “I want to explore this and I certainly don't want sign an extension and then change my mind. Let me just make this clear.

“And he couldn't have been better about it. He said, ‘Take your time and is there anything more we can do?’ He was extremely cooperative.”

Manuel was also one of the few people who knew Beilein would surface as a candidate for the Pistons’ job — along with Beilein's wife, Kathleen; dog, Jack; and eventually son, Patrick.

Beilein didn't talk about it to anybody else and said his three other children learned of the news on Twitter — like everyone else — because he didn’t want to put them in a precarious situation if a rumor leaked.

“You can't compromise — that's not fair to the Detroit Pistons. They are trying to go about this thing and get the right guys in and it compromises the integrity of it if it becomes public,” Beilein said. “Other coaches from the NBA, it's not this huge story. A college coach coming is a huge story so I could not tell them what was going on. It's not fair.”

John Beilein at the Michigan awards banquet with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Moritz Wagner.

Beilein added he spoke with the Pistons before the NCAA’s early entry withdrawal deadline for the NBA Draft on May 30 and thought everything would be over by then. But when the date came and the process was still ongoing, Beilein made sure Matthews knew about his scenario and the possibility he could be leaving because he felt it was the right thing to do.

Beilein eventually gave himself a decision date and time. And the more he looked at his choices, it became clearer where he was wanted and where he wanted to be more.

It led to him publishing a tweet — one he had saved as a draft days ago — from his office and letting the world know that he was staying at Michigan.

“I said this is way too much drama. I'm looking at this situation right now and they're obviously not offering me this contract so they got other options," he said. "I said that's fine. I understand all that. I got a great option. I'm not going to change the environment and atmosphere of my option. My option is tremendous and we're both going to be winner in this thing. 

“I don't even follow this stuff but this big red heart came up, which meant there was 25,000 likes (on the tweet). I thought that was a good sign.”

And with his decision made, Beilein said they're in the process of finalizing an extension that “includes a lot of things in our program” and will ensure he spends the rest of his career in Ann Arbor.

“Way back, this (job) was quite a change but we were only going to place like Michigan. I wasn't leaving West Virginia just to go anywhere. It had to be a place like Michigan and we got something special here,” Beilein said. “As far ending my coaching career (at Michigan), that's the plan right now. Let's make some more runs, see what we can do and at some point we’ll hang it up.”

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