Michigan’s Beilein ‘born’ to be head coach
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA — John Beilein’s path to his first Final Four has been long, winding and rather unexpected. He is a rare coach who’s never been an assistant and didn’t get his first Division I job until 17 years into the business. He’s had pit stops at the high school, community college, Division II and Division I levels.
Two months ago, he turned 60 years old. He’s a grandfather who grew up one of nine siblings in their slice of basketball-crazed Western New York.
He’s seen a lot and done a lot, but never this. Saturday, he’ll lead a team onto the court against Syracuse for a chance to play for a national championship.
“When he says he wouldn’t recommend anybody doing it the way he did it, I totally believe him,” says Patrick Beilein, his son and first-year coach at Division II West Virginia Wesleyan. “It’s a challenge.”
But the fact it was tough was never going to stop Beilein. This was all he’d wanted to do. Mike Ennis, a childhood friend from Lockport, N.Y., since childhood, says Beilein was “born to coach.”
Another childhood friend who now does radio for the Buffalo Bills, John Murphy, recalls a car ride with his older brother and some of Murphy’s brother’s friends, including Beilein, back when they were teenagers at DeSales High School.
“He said, ‘All I want to do when I grow up is coach basketball and marry a really beautiful girl, like a flight attendant,’ ” Murphy says, laughing.
He laughs because Beilein became a successful college basketball coach. And he laughs because Beilein’s wife of 33 years, Kathleen, was indeed a flight attendant. (She worked for United Airlines, Patrick says.)
Basketball has always been in Beilein’s blood, flowing from uncles and cousins and generations of Nilands. The name – his mother’s maiden name – carries quite a bit of weight in Western New York. His uncles, Tommy and Joe, were stars at Canisius before enlisting to fight in World War II. Other relatives played and coached all over the area, too.
In 1987, Beilein applied for a job at the place that had made the Nilands … [For more on Michigan's Beilein 'born' to be head coach, never an assistant, click here.]