Where is Beilein among Michigan BB coaches?

Submitted by PeteM on March 31st, 2014 at 10:14 PM

I've been thinking about this potential MGoBoard topic since last year but told myself that I wouldn't write this until the current season ended fearing that somehow I would jinx the outcome. My question/topic is -- where does John Beilein rank among Michigan basketball coaches? In my mind he's number one.

I'll admit I'm biased toward JB.  While I'd gone to games off and on as a student in the late 80s/early 90s I started getting season tickets in 2000-2001.  My initial seasons were during the Ellerbe era (timing is everything), which makes the current success all the more sweet. When you rank Michigan basketball coaches there aren't nationally iconic names like Yost, Schembechler and Crisler to consider, but there are more individually accomplished coaches than you'd expect at a "football" school.  Strack, Orr, Frieder and Fisher all have significant achievements -- in some cases continuing after Michigan.

While obviously Fisher has a national championship plus two NCAA finals it's hard to know how to weigh the fact that the championship was one he didn't coach through the season and the Fab Five teams had the Ed Martin cloud over them (with the caveat that only Webber was cited)..

Here's my rankings, which are admittedly not based on advanced stats:

1. Beilein -- He took over a program that had been reeling from sanctions, problems with players (Crawford, Gaines, Ingeson etc.) and hadn't made a tournament in 10 years. Tom Izzo was winning NCAA championships and leading teams to final fours up the road.  In his 2nd year we were in the tournament.  In his 5th year we tied for the B10 title, 6th year we made the national finals, and in his 7th the elite eight and a B10 title.

2. Fisher -- I can't really say how to evaluate a guy who can obviously coach (see SDSU) but who had at least enough of a cloud over his head to set things back a decade with some help from Fred Girard of the DetNews and Louis Bullock.  While he made two finals I feel that making one with last year's team (as opposed to the Five Fab) was more impressive.  Also, Fisher didn't face a home state team as strong as Izzo's program.

3. Strack -- He may have a claim on 2nd or 1st on this list.  He built Michigan basketball from the gound up with the Cazzie era leading to the NCAA finals. That said, I can't evaluate the strengthen of the Big Ten from that era or of college basketball in general back then.   And his last couple of teams struggled.  Given that he was before my time I'm open to reevaluate.

4. Orr - his mid-70s teams with Hubbard and Green were incredible.  He's here because, like Strack, his time was short and was bracketed by so so teams in the early and late 70s.  I was in New York this weekend, and the Iowa State fans I met loved him for what that's worth

5. Frieder -- This is a tough one.  Frieder brought in the level of player (Grant, Rice, Tarpley etc.) that I think made Michigan the kind of schools that the Fab Five would want to come to.  That said, his tournament record involved one sweet sixteen finish and otherwise early exits.






April 1st, 2014 at 12:51 PM ^

Here's the dictionary definition of "winningest":

having achieved the most wins

There's nothing in there about winning percentage. You may have your own definition of the term, but it's not wrong to say that Orr is Michigan's winningest all-time basketball coach.

Bando Calrissian

March 31st, 2014 at 11:10 PM ^

Iffy X's and O's, wouldn't do anything to promote the program while Tom Izzo was anywhere there was a camera (like, adamantly refused to do a radio show), prickly reputation at best with Michigan high school coaches... But a nice guy and a safe choice at the time.

Amaker was the right guy to sort of smooth things over after Ellerbe, managed to always win (or come close to winning) the big games when he needed to, put together a run here and there that usually got torpedoed by injuries and inconsistent players,  crippled by sanction... Ultimately, Michigan wasn't the right job for him. I really liked the guy, but he's perhaps the best example of "bad fit" that I can think of.


April 1st, 2014 at 6:50 AM ^

Win the big games? I mostly remember Amaker's teams for getting routinely annihilated by State. His teams always tanked later in the season and players seemed to barely improve at all during their entire time at Michigan. A nice guy who created stability and put the program in the right direction, but from a coaching standpoint seemed pretty terrible. Amazing how his teams at Harvard seem as good as his Michigan teams. I'm sure he learned some things from his time here.

Having said that, the OP is giving too much credit to Beilein "problems with players (Crawford, Gaines, Ingeson etc.)". Yeah, those were all well before Beilein. Amaker's the one who should get credit for cleaning up the program.

Bando Calrissian

March 31st, 2014 at 11:52 PM ^

Real talk: Crisler was empty for most of the Amaker years. Were you (or anyone else) even watching?

Shit, by the end, we were down to less than two or three hundred student ticketholders in the Maize Rage. I was there. It was pathetic. Now that we're good and people actually care, the grand historical revision of the Amaker years is in full swing, and it's grating to say the least.

03 Blue 07

April 1st, 2014 at 1:08 AM ^

I don't know about revisionism, but I was at damn near every home game of the Amaker era, and, while, yes, he was a nice guy and what we needed when Ellerbe got fired, he was not nearly as good a coach or recruiter that the job requires. He probably should've been fired sooner. Player development wasn't great, nor was recruiting, when you compare him to Fisher, Frieder, and Beilein (3 of the other 4 M coaches since 1980 or so). And the wins, obviously, never came. They got close to "breaking through" as a program, but never could seem to take it to the next level (i.e., tourney contender every year/where we were at in the 80's and 90's and now). Tommy was a good hire, but, at least to this fan, he was pretty disappointing as a coach as his tenure went on at M. It's great to see that he's bounced back at Harvard.


April 1st, 2014 at 10:49 AM ^

I know someone who was an academic advisor during the Amaker years. He couldn't wait for Tommy to go. He said that most of the guys Amaker recruited barely went to class. Conclusion: at least he could have won games if he wasn't getting players who wanted an education.


April 1st, 2014 at 11:29 AM ^

This is probably not all that true.  I had Daniel Horton and Lester Abram in two of my classes each, and they regularly attended and participated (especially Horton, he was a legitimately smart dude, would have been at least an average M student had he not been an athlete).

Maybe those two were the exception not the rule, but I remember seeing the bball guys in and around the academic buildings a lot. 


April 1st, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

Nah. Winningest is Win%. That's why for UM football, we've bragged about having the most-wins and (up until this season anyways) being the winningest program as two separate things.


April 1st, 2014 at 4:47 PM ^

Michigan itself says Orr is the "winningest" Wolverine basketball coach. This is from the obit published on mgoblue.com:

Orr left Michigan following the 1979-80 for Iowa State as U-M's all-time winningest coach in school history and still remains the Wolverines' leader with 209 career wins.

As I noted in a reply above, Webster's defines winningest as "having achieved the most wins."


March 31st, 2014 at 10:32 PM ^

Because I never felt how I feel about these guys the last 3 years. Building a PROGRAM in Izzo's backyard. Making those long winter nights melt away. Making me care again.
Coach Orr because damn we were good in 1976...Indiana was unfortunately perfect.
Coach Fisher because he road those kids and that chaos to the Championship in 1989. And for bringing in the fab 5. It was pretty cool at the time.
Those are my top 3.


March 31st, 2014 at 10:35 PM ^

I do like Beilein at the top of this list merely because of the "where we were" versus "where we are" scenario in his particular regime. In the two coaching regimes prior to Beilein were were a 0.500-ish team for the season with a typically sub-0.500 record in the conference. It seems like overall, and especially in the last couple years, we've seen this improve by 10%-15% or so whether it is overall or in the conference schedule. John Beilein may be the most transformational figure in Michigan basketball to date. 


March 31st, 2014 at 10:47 PM ^

(I also started watching Michigan basketball in 2011 and have no knowledge of what came before apart from the Fab Five and Tommy Amaker, so there's that.)


March 31st, 2014 at 10:48 PM ^

Pulls in big-name recruits but also snipes unheralded recruits that fit his system perfectly, develops talent, possibly the best offensive mind in the business, and just a great human being.


March 31st, 2014 at 11:01 PM ^

of basketball history in Ann Arbor is somewhat limited. As a fan though a coach with a reputation of not running a clean program doesn't make my top 5 list. That eliminates 2 of those named here. JB would then be on the top of my list. I wouldn't want anything more...a clean program, success on the court and a beautiful style of ball.


March 31st, 2014 at 11:14 PM ^

Strack had the most big10 titles (3 in 8 years), Johnny Orr had the most wins and colorful personality, Frieder was the best recruiter, and Beilein is the best teacher combination on and off the court. If Beilein can keep his recent success going for two more years he could stake a claim to be the best ever.

My favorite UM team was the 1975-76 squad that averaged about 84 points/game with no 3 point line! RIckey Green, Phil hubbard, John Robinson, Wayman Britt were terrific. Steve GRote and Dave Baxter we're so cool in the backcourt. Joel Thompson was as good a jumping rebounder as UM has ever had. Had they not lost to Bobby Knight's best Indiana team (May , Benson, Buckner) in tournament FInals, they would be legendary.


March 31st, 2014 at 11:31 PM ^

Can only speak to the guys I've seen (Frieder forward) - Coach B only has those 2 Coach F's as competition.  Fisher has the obvious asterisk but we can see at SDSU he was an excellent coach all along.

As everyone says about 2 more years of this - and by this I don't mean Big 10 titles and Elite 8s but being top 4 in the Big 10 and at least winning 1 game in the tourney he will be by himself at the top without question.  

Frieder was actually building something excellent before he was broomed - back to back conf champions mid 80s, and then obviousy the late 80s teams ... and those teams had 2nd and 3rd place finishes in the Big 10.   There was some sick NBA talent on a few of those teams and the "secondary" talent behind the Rice and Grants... like a Loy Vaught would be a beast in current NCAA (I believe).  Even dudes like Wade and Rellford got sniffs of the NBA.  He was here 9 seasons, and next year will be Beilein's 8th I believe.  They actually have had very similar career arcs in terms of taking over not so great programs, struggling some early and then excelling around year 5-6.  But Coach B already has had more tournament success.

Ironically Fisher was here 9 seasons too, so in 2 years Beilein will be at 9 and it will be very easy to compare.  Fisher had 3 great years with the Fab 5 and Fab5-Webber.   After that were 2 first round exits and a NIT championship. 

I don't put Amaker near those guys - sorry.  Nice guy has nothing to do with being a great coach.   Other than 1 year the conference results were 5th thru 9th in the others and zero NCAA appearances. That's bad.  Don't care about injuries - Coach B has injuries and early entrees and just excels.

Bando Calrissian

April 1st, 2014 at 12:09 AM ^

The difference with the Amaker injuries was the short bench he was working with, largely due to the residuals of recruiting under sanctions and poor facilities in combination with mediocrity. For instance, starting PG's John Andrews and Dani Wohl. When Abram and Horton would go down, there was positively no one behind them. Look at those rosters between about 2003 and 2007, and tell me it isn't some of the funniest/saddest shit you've ever seen. 

Look at this year. McGary goes down, and it just meant more playing time for Horford and Morgan. There were a lot more options at either guard position with Spike, Irvin, LaVert, Stauskas, and Walton in the mix. If one of those guys were to go down, there was someone else waiting in the wings without an appreciable talent dip. It's not the difference between Dion Harris and Reed Baker Rainmaker.

In total, think about the year when Amaker had to dress two student managers for the last couple games (rushed into action so quickly they couldn't even get names on the backs of the jerseys in time), and then tell me you "don't care about injuries."

03 Blue 07

April 1st, 2014 at 1:11 AM ^

This is an interesting point. The lineups Amaker ran out there were so devoid of talent at certain points that, like you say, it was ridiculous. But the thing is, Tommy also had a very shaky record of talent development; Beilein is in another stratosphere in that regard. And another universe in tactics/strategy.


April 1st, 2014 at 12:18 AM ^

but Fielder's teams drove me nuts with their turnovers from a style that looked like playground basketball. It worked because he had fantastic talent.

John Bellein is the kind of coach that I longed for during the Fielder years. His teams are disciplined and play together as a team. He is not only a classy individual, he is a great coach. I like the fact that he recruits players that are willing to work hard and improve. I thought he was an excellent coach when he was at West Virginia but I think he is even better at Michigan. I am glad that he was given enough time to recruit players that fit his system. 

This may be an unpopular thing to say but I think Tommy Amaker was a good, and necessary, transitional coach from the Michigan freelance, fast break style to the current, highly disciplined,  offense that we have now.