Michigan’s John Beilein: ‘Don’t worry about me’
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The somber mood in Michigan’s locker room after the NCAA Tournament championship game had no outward effect on John Beilein. When the smiling 65-year-old coach stepped into the Alamodome hallway, he looked nothing like a man who had just missed a golden opportunity to reach his only remaining professional goal.
That’s because Beilein doesn’t see a national title as a goal at all, even after falling one game short for the second time in six seasons.
To Beilein, a championship is just one possible result from the never-ending process of coaching — and he loves the process, not the trophies.
“Oh man — don’t worry about me,” Beilein said. “I would love to win a national championship for those guys, and for the University of Michigan, all those great students and all our alumni. But for me, this is why I coach: To be in that locker room right now with these kids and to have this opportunity to tell them, ‘This is life.’
“This is a great part of life,” he added. “You have these highlights, and then all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, your season is over, and there’s sadness. But in the long run, there’s a lot of joy in what we just went through.”
The joy will return once the Wolverines get over a 79-62 defeat in which they simply couldn’t keep up with Villanova. Donte DiVincenzo and his Wildcats completed one of the most impressive runs in tournament history with a comfortable victory over the Wolverines, who had won 14 straight games.
“Even if we had played our best, it would have been very difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did,” Beilein said. “It was an incredible performance. Sometimes those individual performances just beat you, and you just say, `OK. We played you the best we could, and tonight, you were better than us.'”
Michigan had about 15 good minutes to start, largely thanks to Beilein’s game plan to limit the Wildcats’ 3-point shooting prowess while taking advantage of 6-foot-11 Moe Wagner’s defensive mismatches.
But DiVincenzo and coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats adjusted and ran away, turning the final minutes into a dismal exercise for the frustrated Wolverines. Beilein kept coaching until the end, prizing each minute and every chance to teach.
“John Beilein is one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Wright said. “We weren’t prepared early for some of the things they were doing. They jumped on us, and I should have known better with John.”
A win over Villanova would have been the 800th of Beilein’s collegiate coaching career, which began with the 1978-79 Erie Community College Kats. He has never served as an assistant coach, instead climbing deliberately from Newfane High School to seven collegiate stops — and taking four of those schools to the NCAA Tournament.
“We love Coach, and we really wanted to win this for him to get that first championship,” said teary-eyed freshman Jordan Poole, who expects to be back to try again next season. “That’s one of the hardest parts about this, because we know what it would mean to the fans and everybody at Michigan, but especially for him.”
Michigan’s fans know this feeling well: The Wolverines are 1-6 in NCAA title games, winning only in 1989 with Glen Rice and interim coach Steve Fisher.
But Beilein doesn’t sound ready to stop trying. When he returns for his 12th season at Michigan in the fall, he’ll tie Johnny Orr for the longest coaching tenure in Ann Arbor.
After six weeks of highs and one dizzying low, Beilein didn’t sound particularly interested in sliding into the offseason at all. When asked about his upcoming plans, he lamented the fact he won’t be able to coach his next team until July, thanks to the confluence of Michigan’s long season and early exam period.
But he plans to spend the next few months getting reacquainted with his family, particularly the grandchildren. He also plans to slip down to St. Louis to drink some Budweiser while watching his beloved Cardinals — who won 8-4 earlier in the day, he already knew.
He’ll also never stop preparing for his next chance to go after the one trophy he doesn’t have — and doesn’t really need.
“I think on Tuesday or Wednesday, I might not go into the office one of those days,” Beilein said. “I’m sure that Thursday or Friday, I’ll be out recruiting.”