Michigan Hires Billy Donlon, Saddi Washington

Submitted by Brian on May 4th, 2016 at 4:14 PM


These names had been rumored for a couple days and now they are official:

University of Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beilein announced today (Wednesday, May 4) the hiring of Billy Donlon and Saddi Washington as assistant coaches for the Wolverines.

Donlon was just fired from Wright State after a six-year tenure. His axing was controversial, to say the least, after Donlon saw his charges to 22-13 season and 13-5 conference mark, and the conference tournament final. I mean, this is a hell of a resume to fire for a low major*:

Three years after he was named the Horizon League coach of the year and three days after he led his Wright State team to its third 20-plus wins season in four years, a tie for the most league wins by a WSU team and the third appearance in four years in the title game of the league tournament, Donlon was fired as the Raiders’ basketball coach.

Donlon and Wright State had a rough 2015 but the years surrounding it were all 20-win seasons featuring excellent defense considering WSU's place in the basketball firmament. Here are some key stats from his tenure:

Year Adj D Eff Rk 2PT % RK BLK % RK TO% RK REB RK FTR RK
2016 58 136 311 42 22 341
2015 173 267 275 124 154 257
2014 39 154 192 6 83 272
2013 30 165 300 15 68 314
2012 92 335 300 4 90 321
2011 107 335 342 12 111 276

Donlon's teams played a high-foul, high-TO style that made them somewhere between respectable and just about as good as a low major can rank—with the exception of 2015. He's never had any shot blocking because of the nature of coaching at Wright State, but three of the last four years he's outperformed a ton of teams. (FWIW, His offenses were universally horrible. That doesn't matter because Beilein.) Donlon looks like the "defensive coordinator" I was advocating once LaVall Jordan left. Beilein:

"I have known Billy for almost two decades, and I love his passion and IQ for the game. He has tremendous experience as a player, assistant and head coach at the Division I level. Improving our defense is a huge goal for us, and defense is one of Billy's specialties."

If he can get Wright State into the top 60 three times in the last four years he's probably pretty good in that role.

The obvious catch is that free throw rate. That is emphatically not how Michigan plays right now, and it's an open question just how much rope Donlon will have to deploy his style of D. Beilein is notoriously persnickety about fouls. Insert hours-long autobench complaint here.

Meanwhile, Washington has been at Oakland for a decade, helping the Golden Grizzlies have disproportionate success in the Horizon League. He almost got a job in Ann Arbor during the last staff shakeup. I don't know much about him other than the fact that Sam Webb believes he'll be an excellent recruiter; unlike Donlon he doesn't have a helpful Kenpom page since he was an assistant.

*[Article states that Wright State pays its assistants less than the rest of the Horizon and doesn't have a full time strength coach; they are mid-major only if that's your term for literally every non-big-time CBB program.]



May 4th, 2016 at 4:21 PM ^

This is perfect. A defensive minded assistant to help in that area plus an assistant known for recruiting. Two areas of weakness lately with Michigan basketball are addressed with these hires. 


May 4th, 2016 at 4:27 PM ^

I'm excited about both of these hires. Got a defensive specialist, who was a past head coach to boot. I like almost everything I read about him. Washington seems like a great fit, especially in recruiting. Well done.


May 4th, 2016 at 4:29 PM ^

It looks like these are the perfect hires.  We were due for some good news.  Hopefully, we can find a grad transfer this year and knock it out of the park recruiting for 2017.  

turd ferguson

May 4th, 2016 at 4:36 PM ^

I'm a fan.  Kind of interesting that our departing assistants both took head coaching jobs in the Horizon and their replacements both come to us from the Horizon.  Those Detroit vs. Milwaukee games will be fun with Jordan and Alexander there.


May 4th, 2016 at 4:57 PM ^

Like the hires.  Also even though I hate the two foul auto bench this probably isn't the year to start fouling a lot. Depth is scary thin across the board and gets to unproven and walk on players in a hurry.  If any of the non centers get in foul trouble there is nothing to help on the bench.

Stringer Bell

May 4th, 2016 at 5:09 PM ^

Seem like good hires, but Beilein needs to take the reins off.  Let Meyer and Washington do their thing on the recruiting trail, and let Donlon do his thing with the defense.  No more of this soft, no foul BS.  Teams need to be afraid to drive the lane against us.


May 4th, 2016 at 9:36 PM ^

If you think those are even remotely valid comparisons I don't even know what to tell you.  Probably I'd start with the obvious fact that everyone thinks firing Donlon was stupid, followed by pointing out that we have absolutely no idea how well our departed assistants will do as head coaches, especially as compared to Donlon.  Then we'd go into the likelihood that Donlon was probably about as good of an assistant as our previous ones, because they all got hired into the Horizon League.  All that might be lost on you, though, because that statement tells us a little something about your grasp of context.


May 4th, 2016 at 6:14 PM ^

Played ball at Western Michigan University in the 90s. Pretty solid player and person. Optimistic that his coaching follows the same pattern.


May 4th, 2016 at 6:14 PM ^


If there are 3 tiers, Wright State is a mid-major. You are what your league is. High-major leagues are the ones that get multiple at-large bids every year; mids are the ones that are capable of landing an at-large or two, and lows are the ones that are basically always auto-bid-only leagues.

The Horizon is on the cusp in terms of their bids, but their top-to-bottom quality is a long way from the NECs of the world.

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May 5th, 2016 at 3:54 AM ^

While I agree with your post in general, there is no doubt that the HL has taken a hit in recent years, from where it was.  

It's gone from a league Valpo was ecstatic to join to a league they've outgrown--and it's less because of Valpo's success than because of the deterioration of the rest of the league as a whole.  Obviously Butler leaving is a big part of that, but it's gone from a 2-bid league to a 1 (despite the fact they deserved to be a 2-bid this year, but that's another post that would become a negbang around here).


May 4th, 2016 at 7:24 PM ^

I agree that it is good to get assistants that have strengths were the HC has weak spots. However, Beilein sets the tone and emphasizes what is important to him.  The defense will continue to be a struggle and standard post play as well.  I really like coach Beilein, but he is not a good defensive coach, and seems to neglect the post play on both sides. 



Bertello NC

May 5th, 2016 at 8:36 AM ^

It sure is! Depending on what school/coach you talk to. Even if it's not back to the basket, our guys need to gain toughness, footwork, mid range, and the ability to finish consistently and go up strong when within 5ft of the rim!

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May 5th, 2016 at 8:42 AM ^

Yes, those things you list are all important (and all worked on by Beilein and his coaches at his practices - attend one, you'll see).

But outside Purdue, nobody "just throws it in" to the post. Most people, when they are whining about the play of bigs, want to see that. However, it's really a relic of older basketball and NBA basketball where the players have the talent to do it.

Bertello NC

May 5th, 2016 at 10:15 AM ^

Good points, however I would argue and speculate that Beilein whether in recruiting and/or in style, philosophy, mindset, concepts, or overall MO lacks toughness and physicality. That I think needs to be upgraded. Your offense can still remain high pick n roll with cutters and things of that nature but you can still have a toughness within that. And you can still display back to the basket post ability. To me it makes you a more well rounded balanced offense. Doesnt have to be the go to offense but it wouldn't hurt to still have that ability. Just saying we need to be tougher and physical overall. It's why I liked the tape on Harold Baruti. Good points though.

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