As John Beilein prepares to lead his Michigan Wolverines into battle against the Louisville Cardinals for a possible legacy-cementing national championship, it is worth taking a step back and breaking down what exactly a victory Monday night would mean for the Maize and Blue’s head man.
Beilein may not have the gaudy win percentages or the Final Four appearances of a Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim or Rick Pitino, but that doesn’t mean he can’t coach and hasn’t built himself a sterling resume.
Beilein started his Division I career at Canisius near his hometown of New York and almost immediately made the Golden Griffins a threat in the MAAC. In five seasons there he led his squad to two 20-plus-win seasons and an NCAA tournament appearance, which was only the fourth in school history and first since the 1956-57 season.
From there he moved up to Richmond and led the Spiders to the second round of the Big Dance in his first year at the helm. He tallied three 20-plus-win seasons in five tries and then finally got his first shot at prime time with West Virginia.
It was in Morgantown that Beilein entered the national consciousness thanks to an Elite Eight appearance behind the entertaining contributions of Kevin Pittsnogle and Co. The Mountaineers followed that run up with a Sweet 16 berth, which marked the first time since the 1986-87 season that West Virginia qualified for two straight tournaments.
Beilein then took the Michigan job and in five short years has built a national powerhouse. The Wolverines are recruiting the Midwest alongside the Indianas, Ohio States and Michigan States of the world, and doing a fine job of it. Monday night’s national championship game appearance will be the culmination of Beilein’s imperative work on the recruiting trail.
Despite all of Beilein’s impressive accomplishments, the 2012-13 season is by far his best coaching performance. He has taken this perennial football powerhouse school that hadn’t even qualified for an NCAA tournament in the 10 years before he arrived and has it playing on the sport’s grandest stage.
His point guard Trey Burke has cleaned up on the national player of the year award races, it marks his first appearance in the Final Four, and he had to lead his squad through late-season adversity and an impending sense of doubt that many had regarding Michigan entering the postseason. A loss to Penn State will do that.
With all that in mind, a win Monday night would serve as the cherry on top of his greatest season as a head coach. It would also mean a legacy that already includes successful rebuilding jobs, conference championships, conference tournament titles and a Final Four, is officially cemented.
There should also be some sense of now or never for Beilein because his squad is loaded with NBA talent that could very well depart early. It would not be a monumental surprise if some combination of four of Michigan’s key players (Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary) is lacing it up for professional teams next season. This could be Beilein’s best chance he ever sees to win a crown, which is not something to be taken lightly.
Beilein will likely never be mentioned alongside the games’ all-time great coaches, but he will certainly be discussed more often if he has a ring on his finger. Monday night is his opportunity.
*Information regarding Beilein's career accomplishments courtesy of sports-reference.com.