After 54 games, John Beilein resigned as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs held the second-worst record in the league at 14-40, and Beilein struggled to relate to his squad. Assistant coach JB Bickerstaff was promoted to interim head coach.
The Cavs have the fourth-lowest scoring offense in the NBA with 106.1 points per game. On defense, the Cavs allowed 115 points per game, which is ranked sixth-worst in the league.
Only two years ago, Beilein guided the Michigan Wolverines to the NCAA Championship game. Michigan lost to Villanova and were runner ups for the second time within six seasons under Beilein.
“I find losing very challenging and this year has taken a much bigger toll on me than I expected,” Beilein said. “I grew concerned for the consequences this toll could potentially take on my own health and my family’s well-being down the road. It was not certain I could be at my best for the remainder of the season and in the future. That would not be fair to the players, coaches and support staff.”
Beilein, 67, became only the third rookie coach in NBA history to not finish their first season in the pro ranks. Notably, Jerry Tarkanian, the infamous coach of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels was another who couldn’t cut the mustard as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Tarkanian was fired 20 games into the 1992-93 season.
Bickerstaff previously coached the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies before joining the Cavs as an assistant. His overall record is 85-131 over three seasons. His father, Bernie Bickerstaff, coached the Seattle Supersonics in the 1980s and finished with a 419-518 lifetime record in the NBA.
Shoulda Stayed in Ann Arbor
Beilein went from one of the top organizations in college basketball to the worst team in the NBA when the Cavs hired him last summer. Beilein welcomed coaching challenges after he had been hired by numerous schools to turn around their programs. Everywhere he went, Beilein left the program in better shape than when he inherited it.
Beilein guided Michigan to the championship game twice inside of a six-year stretch. Although he never won the big one with Michigan, he led the Wolverines to nine March Madness appearances in 12 seasons, including five trips to the Sweet 16, and two to the Final Four.
Everyone thought Beilein was crazy to leave a cushy job with Michigan, where his team had gone 63-15 in the two previous seasons. But when the NBA called, he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to coach at the highest level. Plus, the Cavs offered to pay Beilein $4 million a season.
Beilein paid his dues in the trenches for multiple decades. He worked his way up the coaching ladder from Division II and Division III schools in the 1980s (Nazareth and Le Moyne) to smaller Division I schools in the 1990s (Canisius and Richmond) before getting a shot at West Virginia and, eventually, landing a job at Michigan before graduating to the NBA.
Sometimes, college coaches can’t hack it in the pros. Sometimes, it takes a disastrous NBA job to send a coach back to the collegiate ranks (e.g., Rick Pitino and John Calipari) where they do their best work. It’s one thing to teach teenagers, but it’s an entirely different beast to herd millionaire millennials.
Ever since LeBron James bolted from Cleveland for a second time, the franchise has yet to recover. Sure, King James gifted the city of Cleveland its long-awaited championship, but the franchise quickly fell apart as soon as he bounced to Los Angeles.
The Cavs didn’t actively tank last season because they were genuinely that bad. They added a college coach thinking he could relate to younger players better, but it didn’t work out. Beilein’s philosophies didn’t mesh with the team. His spread motion offense is a sure-fire hit in the Big Ten, but the everyone in the NBA is much quicker. With an emphasis on three-point shooting, his zone defenses couldn’t succeed. No one bought into Beilein’s overall philosophy. Besides, millionaires don’t want to learn a new system in practice.
The Golden State Warriors have the worst record in the NBA with only 12 wins. However, the Cavs are the consensus worst team in the NBA because Steve Kerr has both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry returning next season.
The Cavs won 19 games last season, and only the New York Knicks (17-65) won fewer. The Cavs didn’t land the top pick, and whiffed on the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes. With the #5 overall pick, they selected Darius Garland (Vanderbilt). With a late first-round pick, they opted for Dylan Windler (Belmont).
The Cavs are headed toward another lottery pick this season. With their luck, they’ll probably miss out on another top-3 pick.
For now, Beilein is out of job after the Cavs experiment. After his bitter experience with the NBA, it’s safe to say he’ll return to the collegiate ranks.