From high school junior varsity to every rank at the college level, John Beilein’s 44-year coaching climb has reached the highest level.
Beilein, who departed Michigan as the program’s all-time winningest coach, was officially introduced as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
"I left the greatest university in the world,” Beilein said Tuesday. “Some of you Ohio State people may not agree with that, but I left the greatest university in the world, a place that was special to (wife) Kathleen and I and our entire family to come to some place I think was equally as special. I see a lot of the potential and the high, high ceiling with the Cavs organization that I saw at the University of Michigan, that we saw at West Virginia, that we saw at Richmond, Canisius, Le Moyne all the way back to Erie Community College and Newfane Central.
“I guess I'm going to be the only to coach at every level ever as a head coach and it's a dream come true to be able to have a position like this.”
Beilein was hired last week by the Cavaliers, ending a successful 12-season run in Ann Arbor.
He finished his Michigan career with a 278-150 record that includes nine 20-plus win seasons, nine NCAA Tournament appearances, two Big Ten regular-season championships, two conference tournament titles, and two national championship game appearances.
He also put together back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time in program history in his final two years.
Beilein, 66, said he didn’t feel like he would’ve had any regret if he stayed at Michigan and never got the chance to test himself in the NBA.
"I didn't put it like that like I've got to get to this level,” he said. “If the next level was not the right organization, it was going to be fine building a great legacy if we could've finished at Michigan. I really felt I had these years left in me to coach.
“I looked at this opportunity and I said this feels just like the Michigan opportunity. When people say, 'What, are you crazy? Why are you changing these jobs and going to a different one?' It felt like it was a healthy change for us and another opportunity to do something special."
While the college game is under fire — from scandals and recruiting to transfers and losing players early — Beilein said none of those issues were reasons why he made the jump.
“I believe that college basketball is going through a transition right now and it needs to really evaluate itself and what's best for the future of the sport,” he said. "It's had betting scandals in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It had the Spencer Haywood lawsuit (in 1971), and everyone thought this is going to kill college basketball and it didn't. It's had the guys going right to the pros, it's had the one-and-done; it always makes it.”
During Beilein’s time at Michigan, he also had nine NBA Draft picks — a list that could grow next month with Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis all pursuing a pro career.
After the news came out he accepted the job with the Cavs, Beilein said he received plenty of congratulatory messages from his former players.
“I was very grateful to coach those guys,” Beilein said. “I think we heard from everybody all the way down — Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Nik (Stauskas) and I were on the phone the other day, Moe (Wagner), D.J. (Wilson). All these guys that are in the pros right now have all reached out.
“Caris LeVert, for example, he said, 'Coach what we do (at Michigan) will work. You just have to make sure you have the right people on that team that will play unselfishly.' He had told me about some franchises that maybe wouldn't be good for me. He very much knows this franchise is where I would want to be."
Beilein, who is no stranger to taking on rebuilds, inherits a Cleveland team that finished 19-63 last season, tied for second worst in the NBA. The Cavaliers own the No. 5 the pick in the NBA Draft and have a young, moldable roster led by Collin Sexton.
"I hated leaving a great place like the University of Michigan, but it could only be for something special like this,” Beilein said. "This is another opportunity on this incredible journey that Kathleen and I have been on, and every one keeps getting better and better. We have a plan to make that the same way."
As of Tuesday, the only hire Beilein had made to his coaching staff was former Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who joined as an associate head coach.
However, it appears Michigan assistants Luke Yaklich, Saddi Washington and DeAndre Haynes could be in play as possible additions.
“I think everybody is a candidate that has some viable NBA experience,” Beilein said when asked about building his staff. “Possibly even a collegiate coach, as well.”
Beilein added he wants everyone on his staff “to have a certain role that makes us really united and very efficient in how we operate.”
Washington spent three seasons on Beilein’s staff at Michigan and served as the top assistant the last two seasons. Yaklich, the defensive guru, and Haynes, who primarily works with the guards, were on the Michigan bench the past two seasons.
Yaklich and Washington are also in-house candidates who could succeed Beilein at Michigan.