This was never going to work.
According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and confirmed by USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zilgitt, Beilein will step down as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. J.B. Bickerstaff will take over as head coach.
Beilein’s tenure will last just 54 games, as the former Michigan head coach will walk away from his four-year deal with the Cavs.
Beilein made his name as a disciplinarian, someone who ran a tight ship and pushed his players hard. In college, that can be a fantastic way to win. If you recruit the right kids, and get them to buy into the program, you can build some pretty special teams.
In the NBA, you are dealing with professionals. For them to have made it to the league, odds are they’re already incredibly hard workers. It’s exceedingly rare for someone to make the NBA on talent alone. It just doesn’t happen anymore. The league is too good, the scouting is too good, the investments are too large, and the margins are too thin. Players don’t need to be taught structure, or discipline. They wouldn’t be there if that was the case.
On top of that, in the NBA you can’t recruit “your guys” or “the right people for the program.” Your GM signs players, and then you find the best way to work with them.
So this idea that you should bring in a coach to teach professionals how to play the game the right way, or give them strict structure, is ridiculous. You don’t need a disciplinarian or a taskmaster in the NBA. You need someone with vision, who can articulate that vision and get players to buy into the vision.
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At ESPN, Adrian Wojnarowski’s report seemed to confirm why Beilein struggled to connect with the team:
Beilein struggled to connect with NBA players and was never able to implement his collegiate offense into the pro game. He befell the plight of some previous coaches who made the leap to the NBA: players quickly tuning him out with his penchant for screaming and believing that Beilein was treating them as young, college athletes, not as professionals, league sources said.
Going back, you could see Cleveland’s line of thinking: We’re going to have to do a full rebuild after the departure of LeBron James, so let’s get a college coach in who knows how to build a program and mold young talent. The fact that the Cavaliers hired Bickenstaff as the “head coach in waiting” shows that they always thought this was a temporary thing.
This is flawed thinking. I’d argue that in a rebuild you even more need someone who’s going to respect players as professionals, and shows them how an NBA team is properly run.
The Cavaliers thought they could re-create college success on an NBA floor. While college coaches can work in the NBA (Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan are current examples), they can’t be naive and think they can just do what they did at the college level and have it work. They have to grow and adapt. It didn’t appear Beilein had that in him.
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