John Beilein's biggest test with Cavaliers will be losing, Dick Vitale says

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Former Michigan coach John Beilein, with wife Kathleen, speaks at the  Champions for Change gala on Saturday night.

Ann Arbor — Dick Vitale is never one to spare words. The former basketball coach and longtime ESPN analyst believes it will be a challenge for Michigan to replace John Beilein.

Beilein, who spent the last 12 seasons as Michigan’s basketball coach, is now the Cleveland Cavaliers' coach. It was a move that shocked much of the Michigan fan base,

Both men were in the Crisler Center Saturday night for the ChadTough Foundation’s third “Champions for Change” gala fundraiser. The event raised more than $1 million for research to discover treatment for pediatric brain cancer with an emphasis on Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). Tammi and Jason Carr lost their son, Chad, to DIPG on Nov. 23, 2015 and have tirelessly worked to find a cure. Chad Carr was the grandson of longtime Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr and UM All-American Tom Curtis.

The gala was co-chaired by Beilein and his wife, Kathleen, who were greeted during their introduction with an standing ovation from the more than 900 in attendance. Vitale received the “ChadTough Spirit Award” honoring his work raising millions of dollars for pediatric cancers, including DIPG.

“Very tough,” Vitale told The Detroit News Saturday night, referring to replacing Beilein, 66. “The man represented Michigan with such class. Brilliant teacher. Brilliant developer of making players better than what they arrived here. I haven’t done the research, but I guarantee you, he didn’t have many McDonald’s All-Americans, but he made them as good as McDonald’s All-Americans. He was a great teacher, motivator.

“Personally, I’m not shocked he left. I put up on Twitter the day he left, I was the only guy who said, ‘I’m not shocked,’ because I believe – and he didn’t tell me this – but I really believe last year, if the Pistons offered him the job, he would have taken it. I really believe it. Just a gut feeling.”

Vitale knows something about making the jump from coaching college to the pro game. He went from the University of Detroit to the Pistons in the late 1970s and found it a challenge. He has been in broadcasting for the last 40 years.

“His (situation) is totally different than me,” Vitale said. “I was young. I was in the early stages of my career. I didn’t build yet the legacy he has built as a college coach. He has that achieved. They can’t take that away from him. So what else is left? 

"I think he’s the only guy ever to coach at high school, junior college, Division I, Division II, Division III and the NBA. It’s the finale. What is the worst thing that could happen? If it doesn’t work out, he gave it a shot. He’s going to be 70 years old. I think it’s a no-brainer.

“Plus, I really believe his principles as a man has reached frustration with what has been happening in college basketball. That sleazy stuff going on. I think – he hasn’t said it – I think he got fed up with all that. The one and done. You never know what your roster is from year to year. All that added up and said well, I go there, and I coach, and I’m off a great deal of the summer. I’m not chasing kids (recruiting), and that’s it.”

Vitale said Beilein can make the coaching transition flawlessly from college to the NBA. He predicts Beilein's biggest challenge will be losing, and it is expected the Cavaliers will do plenty of that in the next few seasons.

“You make it if you’ve got players,” Vitale said. “(Former Pistons owner) Bill Davidson -- a lot of people don’t know this -- I’ve never shared this. Bill Davidson was so good to me. He used to tell me, ‘Dick, you’re your biggest enemy. You want to get it done today. We know it’s going to take five years.’ And I used to say to him all the time, ‘Mr. Davidson, I could coach until I’m blue in my face. We can’t beat Kareem and the Lakers. We can’t beat Dr. J and the Sixers. I want to win now. I can’t wait five years.’

“The biggest challenge he’s going to have, which I couldn’t handle, is losing. Because all my life, whether it be high school state championships, college, Rutgers, we recruit a class that goes to the Final Four the year Michigan was there in ’76, then I go to U-D, we go a Sweet 16. We have a lot of success for U-D, and all of a sudden I go to the pros, and you get pounded on a regular basis. I couldn’t handle it.

Dana Jacobson talks with Dick Vitale during the  Champions for Change gala on Saturday night.

"Now, can he handle it? Because they’re not going to win big in Cleveland right away. They’re not going to win big. He’s going to do a great job, make them better players. You know what? It will be a miracle year if he could go .500. He’ll adjust (his coaching) to his people. He’s smart. He’s a very brilliant tactician. He will have his offenses and defenses predicated on his talent. The question is, who’s the talent going to be? They’ve got the fifth pick, it’s not going to be an impact player. It’s going to be a kid who’s going to take a while to develop.

"John has achieved Hall of Fame status. He is not going to lose, really. He’s in an environment, he’s going to teach, coach. He’s well-respected."

So now what for Michigan? Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel is charged with making the hire to replace Beilein, and while names have been thrown out – former Fab Five member Juwan Howard said last Friday he has spoken to representatives of Michigan’s search firm assistant with the hire – there is no definitive list of candidates. Former Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan, now the head coach at his alma mater, Butler, is another name that has had some traction.

“They’re not getting Billy Donovan. They’re not getting (Brad) Stevens. Those guys aren’t leaving," Vitale said. "There are a lot of guys, obviously, who want this job. It’s a great university. They’re in a fantastic conference. They’ve got money they can pay, so they’ll get a quality guy.

“I hear a lot of great things about, and I don’t know him well, LaVall Jordan. I read Chris Beard’s name from Texas Tech. Juwan certainly brings that Michigan connection. He’s got a lot of experience coaching in the NBA. I wouldn’t be shocked he comes here. A lot of Michigan people would be excited.

"Whoever is going to get that job is stepping into a very difficult situation. Somebody like Juwan, it’s a total 180 from Beilein for this reason – John Beilein recruited players on a level that weren’t McDonald’s All-Americans. Juwan Howard, I think, could bring in big-time stars. He’s got that NBA recognition, kids relate to that. He’s got the Fab Five and Jalen Rose and all those guys will certainly help him. He would not be a bad hire at all.”

Twitter: @chengelis