Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino are living legends.
Boeheim is a hall of famer with more than 900 wins and a career that has spanned five decades, with Final Fours coming in four of them. Rick Pitino has taken three different programs to the Final Four, he’s won a national title and he put together arguably the best college basketball team of all-time.
Then you have Gregg Marshall, a coach that built a powerhouse at Winthrop, leaving to take over at Wichita State, where he has built the Shockers into the best program in the Missouri Valley that’s not leaving for the Big East next season. Oh, and despite his success, he not leaving, either. At least not for Minnesota or UCLA or USC or any of the other high-major jobs that were available this offseason.
And through all of that, would you believe that the most interesting head coach in this Final Four is, without a doubt, John Beilein?
Think about this: he began his coaching career at Erie CC and spent four years there. Then he went to Nazareth, a D-III school, where he got his big break, or so he thought, when he was offered the head coaching job at LeMoyne, which is better known as that random D-II team that knocked off Syracuse in an exhibition game a few years back. From there, it was to Canisius and Richmond before finally landing a job at a high-major program when he was hired by West Virginia. After leading the Mountaineers to an Elite 8 and a Sweet 16, Beilein was hired to rebuild Michigan, and he’s done just that.
On Sunday, the Wolverines blew out No. 3 Florida to advance to Beilein’s first career Final Four.
The man he out-coached to get there? Billy Donovan, who has two national titles to his name. That was after Beilein beat Bill Self, another national title winner and a coaching legend in the making. Just to get to the second weekend, Beilein had to beat Shaka Smart, who got to a Final Four at the age of 33. Beilein is 60.
In fact, Beilein made it out of a region that featured 10 Final Four coaches, five of whom — Self, Donovan, Tubby Smith, Roy Williams and Steve Fisher — have won a national title.
The best part? None of it seems to affect him.
“I said yesterday in the press conference, you know, it’s great to be in the Final Four, [but] if we had never made it, it’s not the reason that I’m coaching,” Beilein said on a teleconference on Monday. “The reason we’re coaching is about the student athletes, the relationships, the overall excitement we have of seeing young men grow in every way.”
He’s always going to be the same guy, the same ol’ ball coach running the same ol’ offense and using the same ol’ push mower to cut his own grass:
The guy still cuts his own lawn, with a humble mower, 40 minutes, back and forth making sure the lines are precise.
“Yes, he mows his own lawn on a push mower,” said son Patrick, who played for his dad at West Virginia, assisted him at Michigan and is now in the family business as the head coach at West Virginia Wesleyan. Well, John cuts it, unless Patrick or one of his brothers is home to do it. The coach is still there to monitor the process, of course.
“He’ll say, ‘Patrick, look at how your lines are,’ ” the son laughed. “That’s just how he was raised. He was taught to do things by himself.”
Beilein’s a throwback.
It’s something we all should appreciate.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.