Ann Arbor — As the Michigan basketball team kicked off the 2018-19 season on Tuesday, there was a sense of normalcy.
Coach John Beilein showed the Wolverines the famous “The team, the team, the team” speech from legendary football coach Bo Schembechler before their first official practice like usual.
He stood at the center of the block ‘M’ at Crisler Center and broke down the huddle before pacing the sidelines and directing team drills as he always does.
However, this past offseason was anything but normal for Beilein.
After leading Michigan to the Big Ten tournament title and to the national title game last season, Beilein had a brief flirtation with the Detroit Pistons and their head coaching vacancy before signing a rolling extension with the Wolverines in July.
Then a month later, Beilein, 65, was blindsided when he found out he needed to have double bypass heart surgery.
“This has been as unique a nine months that anybody could have in their life," Beilein said as he settled in for his first news conference since his procedure.
According to Beilein, everything took an unexpected turn when he went to take his yearly stress test — one that he initially put off because he had to go out recruiting.
“I had the first part of my physical I always do at the end of the year and they said, 'It's time for the stress test.' And I said, 'I only got 30 minutes. I got to catch a flight,'” Beilein recalled. “So, I said, 'Let's do it later,' and I actually wasn't going to do it because it's no fun. They get you on a treadmill and they run you and lay you down. It's no fun."
At the follow-up appointment, it was discovered that there were blockages in Beilein’s heart arteries and he needed to undergo a two-vessel coronary bypass graft surgery to improve blood flow to the heart.
"I'm blessed that we caught it earlier so you're not doing a bypass after a heart attack," he said. "Everybody get a stress test. Just get one at some point because who knows what would've happened."
Beilein said he gave some thought to holding off the procedure until after the team’s Aug. 17-26 trip to Spain, but his wife, Kathleen, wasn’t having any part of it. There was also a brief discussion about whether the Wolverines should travel overseas without him, but Beilein knew it was an opportunity his young team couldn't pass up.
Eventually he scheduled the surgery for Aug. 6 at the University of Michigan’s Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center, giving himself a 12-week window to recover and get ready for Michigan’s regular-season opener against Norfolk State on Nov. 6.
“I think the initial shock that you're going to have this done, and then when you wake up and you realize what just happened to you,” Beilein said. “Your heart has been stopped for a long period of time and you have been carved open. You just think about, 'Wow, what just happened?' You realize that was literally life-changing for everybody."
Beilein said within a week of the surgery he was walking five miles a day with Kathleen. He found ways to pass the time by reading and watching his beloved St. Louis Cardinals make a run toward the postseason. And while hitting the road and going out recruiting every day wasn't recommended by the doctors, he still managed to make a couple trips.
However, Beilein added he’s not quite 100 percent. There’s still soreness and his chest hurts when he coughs or sneezes. He also still has some recovery ahead of him since he can’t throw a chest pass and yell just yet.
He started rehab on Monday at University Hospital and will meet with doctors on Wednesday to go over possible lifestyle changes to help manage stress, which inherently comes with the job.
But throughout the process, Beilein said he has garnered a fresh appreciation for life and his trust levels have gone up with his coaching staff, particularly assistants Saddi Washington, Luke Yaklich and DeAndre Haynes, who all took on more responsibility during his absence. Washington also served as the interim coach during Michigan's foreign tour.
Yet, Beilein expects he’ll be back to full health by the time the regular season tips off. And before then, he has no plans to miss the team's preseason scrimmage and Nov. 2 exhibition against Northwood because he has already been sidelined much longer than he would prefer.
"I think we were all very down, especially once (Beilein) said he wouldn't be able to go to Spain," junior center Jon Teske said. "I think we were all looking forward to that, just bonding with him outside of basketball there.
“But we knew that was best for him and he had to get healthy for the season. That was the right time to get the surgery done, and we knew that he'd recover well and be ready for practice. I think we're all ready to go.”
Perhaps nobody is more than Beilein.