By: Jeff Riger
I admit it!
I doubted, ripped and even called for a change when it comes to John Beilein coaching Michigan hoops. Don’t get me wrong, I am impressed with what the man has done with the program, however, I always thought of him as the guy to get to the guy who would eventually bring Michigan basketball back to prominence. Yes, he got much-needed facilities, and, yes, he has started to recruit the type of athletes that the program has not seen in years, but I still was not convinced.
Not that it matters, but I have been a Michigan hoops fan for as long as I can remember. I was in seventh grade when they won it all and I was in high school when the Fab Five appeared on campus in Ann Arbor. If that makes me a Walmart Wolverine then I’m good with it, I just have always wanted the program to win. When this year’s team started 16-0 and the “We On” shirts started to show up everywhere, I was all in. In fact I remember asking my radio partner in a show in December “when can we admit that this team is special?”
But as the Big Ten season started and Michigan started to play better competition, especially on the road, it became apparent to me that not only will the Wolverines frustrate the hell out of you but that Beilein was not the right guy for this gig. I remember losses to Penn State where the head coach acted like it was no big deal to lose to a team like that. I remember when they got blown out in East Lansing and the head coach seemed ok with his “ho hum” demeanor. Beilein also seemed to lack passion when he was speaking to the media and even though that might not be who he is, that was the only thing I had to go on.
I figured he was a mid-major coach at best. We all know about that West Virginia team he led to the Elite 8, and that was essentially his claim to fame. Beilein coached his best when he wasn’t expected to win and I always wondered, “Why it took him until he was in his 50s to land at a major university?” I wanted fire, anger, yelling and screaming and those traits seemed to be the furthest thing from Beilein’s personality. I was certain he could not get the job done!
But the biggest thing that annoyed me, was his absolute refusal to acknowledge the expectations his program now had. He just kept saying “we are young” and “the game is just moving too fast for us.” That type of chatter infuriated me!
Of course, after the choke job against Indiana and the loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament when Michigan gave up 51 second half points to the Badgers, I truly was sick of his act and I was ready for a change. I wasn’t being rational or even fair because I was being a fan instead and that is what fans do. Right? I didn’t even care about the tournament, I was ready for this season to be done and I wanted Beilein to be done as well.
So now that Michigan is in the Final Four, I feel like a schmuck. I have cheered, yelled and screamed throughout the last four wins all while knowing I have ripped the head coach for creating a soft program at Michigan. I feel like a hypocrite, so I decided to apologize.
I don’t know if Michigan will win it all but I think they can. They have the shooters to conquer a tough Syracuse zone and they have the athletes’ to run and break that patented Rick Pitino press. They have as good of a chance as any of the other three teams in Atlanta and for that Beilein and his staff deserve all the credit in the world.
It’s actually kind of ironic to tell you the truth! For the longest time, I always wished Pitino had taken the Michigan job. I remember it well, he had just gotten fired from the Celtics and Michigan said so long to Brian Ellerbe. There was a couple of days where I really thought that Pitino was going to come to Ann Arbor but then he decided on Louisville. I was bummed, as Michigan was forced to settle on Tommy Amaker and of course we all know what happened there. I know it sounds strange but I have thought of that day when Pitino choose the Cardinals many times and considering the job he did at Louisville you can understand my jealously. Pitino has been to three Final Fours including this one and an Elite 8 in his 12th season on the job. I never wondered if he would have done that here because I knew he would of, he has done it everywhere else.
So please accept my apologies Mr. Beilein. I seem to have been wrong about you. In fact why not win the whole thing and make me look like a real ass for ever doubting you? Beilein and Michigan have a chance to make me forget all about Pitino choosing Louisville and that is something I never thought to be possible after the Michigan State, Penn State, Indiana and Wisconsin losses. Now if only Beilein could wear one of those all while suits like Pitino pulls off so well.
Man, I can’t wait until Saturday night!