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Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel admits he was surprised John Beilein decided to leave the Wolverines and head to the NBA. The Detroit News

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Rosemont, Ill. — When Warde Manuel got the news Monday morning, he couldn’t help but be surprised.

It was then the Michigan athletic director was informed that men’s basketball coach John Beilein was leaving for the NBA to become the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Beilein had kept Manuel abreast of conversations he was having with the Cavs, but as Manuel departed for Chicago to attend meetings at Big Ten headquarters, he wasn’t planning on beginning a search to replace the winningest coach in program history.

Things change quickly, though, and now Manuel finds himself searching for a new coach in what might be the biggest move of his tenure leading the Michigan program.

“Yeah, I mean actually I was,” Manuel said when asked if the move was a surprise. “John obviously is a great coach but even a better person. Him, Kathleen and his family are a big part of Michigan and spent the last 12 years and had great success here, particularly the last five years. So I was surprised that he was leaving, and I wish him well, but it did hit me by surprise.

“I knew some of the conversations he had going on, he was very good about keeping me posted that there was some conversations, some talking going on, some interest in having those conversations. But I was surprised by the final outcome.”

Where Manuel turns from here is the biggest question facing the Wolverines, and it doesn’t come at exactly the best time. Manuel conceded most coaching moves have been made at this point, but he also feels Michigan has become a top-10 program in the country and would be a highly sought-after position.

By Monday afternoon, Manuel said he’d already heard from plenty of people about possible candidates, but he emphasized taking the time to pick the right coach instead of the first one to “raise their hand.”

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“The timeline (for finding a new coach) is I want to get it right,” Manuel said. “While I’d like it to be done ASAP I’m also gonna take the time to make sure that we find the right person for Michigan and the right person to step in and continue and drive the success that we’ve had.”

While Beilein’s ultimate decision to leave wasn’t what Manuel was expecting he has had some time to prepare for finding a new basketball coach.

Last offseason, Beilein was a candidate to become the coach of the Detroit Pistons, forcing Manuel to consider the fact he might need to find a replacement. Beilein ended up staying at Michigan, received a new contract and had Manuel talking about keeping Beilein around for the rest of his coaching career.

Still, it was a reminder to stay on top of things.

“You’re always prepared, you try to be, at least,” Manuel said. “You hope to never have to do anything with it. You try to prepare and think about the next steps and have conversations around what that would look like and who that might be, but I wasn’t hoping to implement any plans.”

A year later, Manuel is implementing that plan and said he’d consider many of the same names he had in mind back then, but experience is clearly near the top of his list of requirements.

“If I can get a proven coach, someone who has a track record as a head coach,” Manuel said, “that’s what I’d like to see.”

Plenty of coaches out there fit the bill. Names like Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics, Jay Wright of Villanova and Tony Bennett of Virginia have been mentioned. Those might be considered longshots but that type of coach would also be a home run.

Whoever it is, Manuel wants someone who continues many of the things Beilein established.

“I want someone who can coach and develop talent,” Manuel said. “John did it and this league has done it year-in and year-out. We’re not teams full of five stars. We develop talent in the league. It’s a tough league that plays hard, so we’re looking for somebody that can develop talent and coach.”

And there’s one more aspect that Manuel won’t compromise on.

“John has established you can win with integrity and do things the right way,” Manuel said. “Given some of the issues that have popped up in this sport, I want to assure that whoever leads our program understands that and has that in their background where they are beyond reproach.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

 

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