Cavaliers new coach, area product Beilein remembered locally
WHEELING — From a marginal player at Wheeling College to NBA head coach.
John Beilein is that man.
Beilein didn’t script much of a collegiate playing career with the Cardinals. However, he has authored a brilliant one as a collegiate head coach, including a stint at WVU.
So the personable mentor shocked many in basketball circles Monday when he opted to leave the University of Michigan after 12 years, where he has enjoyed great success, to take over the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers.
Beilein played at Wheeling College from 1971-75. He served as the team’s captain as a senior although he was a role player all four years with Cardinals. He failed to score a 100 points in his career.
However, he is in the Wheeling Jesuit Athletic Hall of Fame for his coaching success. He was enshrined in 2015.
Cleveland landed the 66-year-old hoop guru by giving him a five-year contract for an undisclosed amount. The Cavaliers were a woeful 19-63 this past season. They have the No. 5 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Beilein has compiled a career coaching record of 717-428. He ranks in the top 10 in victories among active Division I head coaches. In 22 years of coaching D-I basketball, Beilein’s teams have made 15 post-season appearances and totalled 19 20-win seasons.
While Beilein is a major figure in national basketball circles, he still has many Ohio Valley connections. One of the most notable is former City of Wheeling recreation director and OVAC Hall of Famer Tom Bechtel. He helped coach Beilein at Wheeling College, cast as an assistant to Paul Baker.
“John Beilein is an unbelievable human being. I watched his Michigan team beat Michigan State in a late-night game last year. I went to bed about 11:30. It had to be a real late night for him,” Bechtel said. “The next day, John calls me at 9 in the morning. He found out I was retiring. He said, ‘Bear stay active, don’t retire.’ He encouraged me for 10 minutes.
“Amazingly, John was calling me from Buffalo, N.Y. He was there for his sister’s funeral. He was concerned about me,” he added. “John cares about people. He is just a super, down-to-earth guy.”
Bechtel and Beilein bonded tightly through their coach-player relationship. Bechtel said Beilein was a solid player wedged in a backcourt logjam.
“John was a good player stuck behind two all-conference guards. They were great players. We played Georgetown, Pitt and Xavier one year,” Bechtel noted. “John was always in the gym. You could tell he loved the game. He came to Wheeling College because he had two cousins play there in the 1960s.”
Bechtel shared another story showing the character exhibited by Beilein.
“When John’s dad dropped him off at college he knew no one, had little money and his dad said you are not coming home. So, John went to the field house where he befriended our janitor, Bernie McDermott,” Bechtel said. “They developed a great friendship and Bernie took him under his wing.
“When Bernie died a few years back, John flew into Ohio County Airport in a private jet for the funeral. We picked him up at the airport. When we got to the services, John gets up and delivers the first speech. He says he owes a lot of his success to the janitor,” he continued. “Afterward, we went to the Alpha and John is signing autographs for anyone who asked. But he also made time to talk to two 80-year-old ladies. John cares about people.”
Bob Narrish was a former Linsly Military Institute athletic standout. He has been officiating high school basketball for 40-plus seasons, doing it as well as anyone in the profession. Narrish was also a college teammate of Beilein. They remain friends today.
“I have known John since 1973. I was a freshmen at Wheeling College and he was a junior. We played together for two years. We got to be good friends as we sat side-by-side on the bench,” Narrish quipped. “We had two great guards in Rod Gaddy and Dicky Kelly on that team. But John was a really good player. He had great knowledge of basketball and he loved the game. We have stayed in touch ever since.
“Back then, I knew he was destined to be a great coach and teacher. I wasn’t sure at what level but you could tell he had everything it took to be very successful,” he added. “I texted him Tuesday after he took the Cavaliers job. He texted me right back. John is never too busy for people. He is my friend. No doubt about it. We have taken in a lot of his games at Richmond and WVU.”
Beilein’s decision to join the pro coaching ranks did catch Narrish off guard.
“I was surprised because, in my opinion, John Beilein is a role model for college basketball. He does everything by the book,” Narrish offered. “There was a survey done of the 100 top college coaches. John was tabbed the No. 1 most honest coach. All his teams got better and all his players loved him.
“John is a man of great faith. He is a Catholic who practices his beliefs,” he added. “John is an unbelievable family man. He is an extremely loyal friend.”
Narrish does believe he knows why the Cavs picked Beilein.
“I told a bunch of my friends that one of the reasons the Cavaliers chose Beilein is that they are going to have a very young team. John has a history at WVU and Michigan of molding men into a team with character. He creates a John Beilein atmosphere in all his programs,” Narrish noted. “I am 100 percent sure the NBA will not change John. He is character.”
Current Wheeling Jesuit University men’s basketball coach John Peckinpaugh is also friends with Beilein.
“I had the chance to go watch a practice this fall and he used our gym at Indiana Tech the day I was named the head coach there a few years back,” Peckinpaugh said. “Has always been a good guy to me.”
Prior to Michigan, Beilein was head coach at WVU from 2002-07. He compiled a 104-60 record with the Mountaineers.
In 2005, WVU advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s “Elite Eight” via a 24-11 record. The following year, the Mountaineers carded a 22-11 record and reached the “Sweet Sixteen.” In 2006-07, Beilein guided WVU to a 27-9 record and an NIT title.
Cleveland has a connection with Beilein. Cavs assistant general manager Mike Gansey played for him at WVU.
In addition to coaching at Michigan and WVU, Beilein has been head coach at the University of Richmond, Canisius College, Le Moyne College, Nazareth College and Erie Community College. Including junior colleges, he has 829 career wins.
FORT FRYE football coach Eric Huck was a deserving winner of the Bill Van Horne OVAC Coach-of-the-Year Award presented Monday at the Banquet of Champions. One notable absence from the five finalists was Shadyside girls’ hoop coach Serge Gentile. Taking a team to the state tournament in Ohio is a major accomplishment. Gentile did a remarkable job this past season and should have been justly honored.
OHIO UNIVERSITY Eastern is accepting applications for the positions of head men’s basketball coach and head women’s volleyball coach. Those interested should contact OUE Director of Athletics E.J. Schodzinski for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-699-2503. Applications will be accepted until June 7.
MICHAEL BUDDENBURG was a state champion cross country runner for Bellaire. This past weekend, his daughter, Tru, captured the pole vault title in the Ohio junior high state championship meet. The Greenon eighth grader cleared an impressive 10-3.
LONGTIME ATHENS Messenger Sports Editor Tom Metters died this past week. He was one of the heavyweights in the sports-writing business in the Buckeye State and one of the most professional. Metters was 80.
PAIGE GEANANGEL recently wrapped up her senior season with the Youngstown State softball team. The former Indian Creek standout compiled a 5-8 mark this spring with a 4.25 ERA. She fanned 45 batters in 77 innings of work.
FRANK VOGEL was recently named head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. A decade ago, he was an assistant with the Indiana Pacers. Another Pacer aide at that time was Jay DeFruscio, longtime and successful head coach at Wheeling Jesuit University. They served for Jim O’Brien, a Wheeling Jesuit assistant coach in 1974-75.
I FIND this to be a most impressive feat: The Toronto Red Knights have now won 25 consecutive sectional baseball crowns.
NATE RUSH is the starting second basemen for the Fairleigh Dickinson University baseball team this spring. The former Bishop Donahue and Linsly standout has started 28 games for the 15-35-1 Knights. He has a .374 on-base percentage while committing just two errors. Wheeling Central product Austin Crebbs is his teammate. The sophomore hurler is 3-2 on the campaign with 29 Ks in 49 innings worked.
THE OVAC is well represented in this week’s West Virginia state softball tournament. Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central and Clay-Battelle are all in the title hunt. Meanwhile, Washington High from the Eastern Panhandle is also in the field. The Class AAA Patriots are coached by Wheeling Central grad Amanda Orkoskey.
OLIVIA WARD of Canton GlenOak finished second in the pole vault in the Division I district track meet Friday at North Canton Hoover. She cleared 10-6. Olivia is the daughter of Bellaire High running great Charlie Ward.