John Beilein’s tenure as an NBA coach is over, and the an episode of “The Hoop Collective with Brian Windhorst,” an ESPN podcast, Jackie MacMullan said that Beilein wanted to schedule a practice on Christmas Day. The Cleveland Cavaliers‘ players, unsurprisingly, were not fond of the idea.about his to the pros. On
“This is a coach that was thinking about practicing on Christmas Day,” MacMullan said. “No, really. That’s a lack of understanding of how the NBA works. It just is. The length of the season, the importance of getting your players’ head in the right space. They weren’t playing on Christmas Day, and he was considering practicing on Christmas Day. And, of course, that didn’t happen because somebody very quickly squashed that.”
If it wasn’t already evident that there was a disconnect between the 67-year-old coach and the young professionals on the Cavs’ roster, it surely is now. One source cited in a triple-bylined story on The Athletic described Beilein as “a dictator — not a coach suited for today’s NBA.” At Michigan, he was used to teaching the fundamentals in long practices and long film sessions. For anyone coming from the college system, the rhythm of an 82-game regular season and the culture of the league is an adjustment.
“Can’t treat us like college kids,” one player told cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor. “Just disrespectful for grown men.”
Elsewhere in the podcast, MacMullan said a Cavs player told her that Beilein’s approach was “too college-y” about a month and a half ago. She added that “one of the big issues that the players had with John Beilein was how disorganized he was.”
In NCAA circles, Beilein was and still is a legend. If he chooses to go back to the college game, he will instantly command respect in his next position. In the NBA, however, he needed to earn that respect, or at least demonstrate to the players in Cleveland that he was committed to doing so. The anecdote about Christmas is just one of many signs that he was never at home in this environment.
While this particular piece of information is new, the broader theme has been reported on for a while. In early December, The Athletic published a story by Joe Vardon and Shams Charania that quoted a Cavs player saying “guys drowned out his voice” and another saying “our assistants are definitely more prepared for the NBA.”
Beilein responded to that story by saying, “I have made huge changes in everything,” via cleveland.com’s Marla Ridenour. “I would say 85 percent of our language is NBA language. Our typical practice [at Michigan] the day before a game would be two hours and 10 minutes, now it might be 60 or 70 minutes.”
Whenever something weird happened with the Beilein’s Cavs this season, I thought back to his appearance on ESPN’s “The Woj Pod” during training camp. He told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he was drilling players on how to pivot and how to put spin on their passes.
“Once we get to this point where we’re all sort of understanding the importance of a good pivot, the importance of an on-time, on-target pass, the importance of just a simple box-out, then you can move to the pretty stuff,” Beilein said then. “But we gotta be able to do that stuff.”
Beilein was saddled with a roster that was talented or balanced enough to win much this season, and the transition from the LeBron James era to this rebuilding stage was awkward and messy before he got there. His job, however, was to connect with the Cavs’ players and develop them — it’s impossible to do the latter without the former. In that respect, it is abundantly clear that he failed.