Top Options for Replacing John Beilein as Michigan's Men's Basketball Coach
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his patented Woj Bombs on the basketball world early Monday morning with his tweet that John Beilein is leaving the Michigan Wolverines to become the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Over the past 12 seasons with U-M, Beilein became one of the best in the business. He didn't just rebuild a program that had spent the better part of a decade trying to recover from the Fab Five fallout. He turned Michigan back into a legitimate powerhouse program. Eight NCAA tournament appearances in the past nine years, five of those as a No. 4 seed or better. Two of those trips (2013 and 2018) ended in the national championship game.
This CBB-to-NBA move is right up there with Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan from earlier this decade, and the quest to replace Beilein may spark a whole new ride on the coaching carousel.
But don't assume this later-than-usual coaching change is destined to bury Michigan. Just two years ago, Ohio State and Thad Matta parted ways in June, but the Buckeyes immediately improved after plucking Chris Holtmann from Butler. And there's still quite a bit of talent on this Wolverines roster, even with the departures of Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis. (Brazdeikis could still pull out of the draft, but that seems even more unlikely to happen now.)
Who makes the most sense for Michigan AD Warde Manuel to target in this coaching search?
Luke Yaklich, Michigan Assistant
In John Beilein's first 10 seasons with Michigan, the Wolverines never ranked higher than 37th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
They were No. 2 in that category this past season and ranked third in 2017-18.
Getting Charles Matthews as a transfer from Kentucky helped a lot, but the main reason for that improvement? Assistant coach Luke Yaklich.
Beilein hired Yaklich away from Illinois State during the 2017 offseason, and his man-to-man defense and constant intensity made Michigan an almost unstoppable force, winning 63 games in the last two years. Yaklich entered the offseason as one of the hottest names on the list of assistant coaches worthy of a head-coaching gig, and Michigan certainly needn't look far to find him.
For Manuel, Yaklich is probably the backup plan if he is unable to snare a big fish on the open market. But it's a move that makes sense all the same. Yaklich obviously knows the system, the players and (at least to some extent after two seasons) Michigan's recruiting foothold. Hiring from within significantly reduces the risk of shockwaves that rock the foundation of a solid program.
Moreover, moving quickly on Yaklich would ensure that he neither follows Beilein to the NBA nor answers those phone calls from other college programs looking to make a savvy hire. It would keep the status quo and even give him a mulligan year if the Wolverines plummet to around .500 after losing their top three scorers. It could be an outstanding long-term investment.
LaVall Jordan, Butler
If the Wolverines don't feel like handing a current assistant this job, perhaps they'll give a former assistant a look.
Heaven knows it wouldn't be the first time a Butler coach got the call to the Big Ten. Thad Matta got his start with Butler before eventually finding his way to Ohio State. Todd Lickliter went straight from the Bulldogs to the Iowa Hawkeyes. Chris Holtmann was the man who replaced Matta at Ohio State. And maybe now it's LaVall Jordan's turn to make the leap.
Jordan was on Lickliter's coaching staff for eight seasons before joining forces with John Beilein at Michigan from 2010 to '16. Prior to taking a head coaching job at Milwaukee and transitioning to Butler one year later, Jordan helped mold guards like Trey Burke, Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris into legitimate NBA prospects.
He knows Beilein's system as well as anyone, and he could be the best candidate to keep this program from going through any sort of transitional rebuild.
If you're a Michigan fan, don't let Jordan's career sub-.500 head coaching record bother you. He inherited a full-fledged disaster at Milwaukee, forced to replace seven of the eight leading scorers from a program in shambles. While things weren't quite that dire when he went to Butler, the Bulldogs did lose four of their seven leading scorers before hiring him. And he still got that team to the NCAA tournament.
Give Jordan at least half of a starting deck and he'll prove he can lead this team.
Tommy Amaker, Harvard
Retread hires aren't sexy and don't often work out well, but bringing Tommy Amaker back to Ann Arbor could be an exception to that rule.
Amaker had the unenviable task of trying to steer Michigan both through the Fab Five scandal and back from a brutal three seasons under Brian Ellerbe. (The Wolverines were 37-51 from 1998 to 2001.) Though he was unable to get them into the NCAA tournament during his six seasons with the program, they won at least 22 games in three of his final four years.
He didn't exactly lay the groundwork for Beilein to swoop in and succeed, but he at least partially brought Michigan back from the dead.
And he has since turned Harvard into an annual threat to reach the NCAA tournament, which is a small miracle in and of itself. The Crimson had never been dancing prior to Amaker, but he got them there in four straight years (2012 to '15), including a pair of tournament wins.
Even if Michigan wants him back, though, is it a sure thing Amaker would leave?
Similar to Mark Few at Gonzaga, Bob McKillop at Davidson or Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, Amaker is in a position where he would be more than welcome to stay for life. He took nothing and turned it into something, and it would take a multiple-year collapse for that program to even consider giving him the boot. That type of job security would be hard to just throw away.
Moreover, if Bryce Aiken pulls his name out of the draft and returns for his senior season, Harvard could have an incredible campaign coming its way. The Crimson went 19-12 this past year and could be getting back all nine of their leading scorers. It would be a strange time to jump ship, even for what we can safely assume would be a much higher-paying job.
Juwan Howard, Miami Heat
Several teams have been trying to rekindle the fire of their glory days by bringing back former players as head coaches. At least initially, it worked out quite well for Connecticut with Kevin Ollie. Patrick Ewing has Georgetown pointing in the right direction. Penny Hardaway is already a recruiting godsend for Memphis. And, well, let's not talk about Chris Mullin's brief run with St. John's.
Would Michigan think about going that route by giving Juwan Howard a call?
Following an NBA playing career that spanned almost two decades, Howard has spent the past six years as an assistant with the Miami Heat. By most accounts, he's a promising up-and-comer in this second stage of his career, too. Both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers were at least considering him as an option to fill their vacancies.
There's a huge difference between coaching in the NBA and coaching in college, though, and if Howard doesn't want to make that switch, no one would blame him.
Not only are the styles of play dissimilar—much, much different if Michigan can keep Yaklich as a defensive assistant for another season of 68-60 scores—but college coaching also has that annoying-yet-all-important recruiting element. Assuming he can't just waltz into homes and poorly air-conditioned gymnasiums in his old maize and blue threads and sign any recruit he wants, does Howard want to deal with that?
If he does, it would probably be a home run hire. Howard has already forgotten more about basketball than many coaches will ever learn, and his perceived success on Miami's bench could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
Following the 2014-15 season, college basketball lost a pair of great coaches to the NBA. Fred Hoiberg left Iowa State for the Chicago Bulls and Billy Donovan left Florida for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Hoiberg is now back in the college ranks and already working his transfer-market magic to rebuild the Nebraska Cornhuskers. And it'd be cool if Donovan joins him in the Big Ten by taking the Michigan opening.
Of course, there's the not-so-minor hurdle of Donovan still having a job in the NBA. Hoiberg was fired by the Bulls in early December and was free to explore his options. At least for the time being, Donovan still has a year remaining on his five-year contract with Oklahoma City. However, with just a 4-12 record in the postseason over the past three years, both parties might be more than willing to make a change.
Provided Donovan is an option, there might not be a better one. From 1998-99 through 2013-14, Donovan won at least 21 games in 16 consecutive seasons with the Gators, averaging 26.5 victories. He won two national championships (2006 and 2007) and made it at least as far as the Elite Eight five other times.
And for the most part, he did it with less-than-elite recruiting classes. There were a few great hauls, but there were also several highly touted duds. Because he kept pace with the likes of Duke and Kentucky, Donovan was regarded as one of the best in the industry at the time of his jump to the NBA.
It wouldn't take much for him to reacquire that status with Michigan.
Pick Any High-Profile Coach from a Non-Blue Blood Program
It's astounding what type of names get thrown around every time a good-not-great job opens up. Not trying to disparage Michigan with that qualifier, but let's be real. For everything Beilein did to put this program back on the map, this isn't Duke or North Carolina. It's not the best job in the Big Ten, and it's a borderline top-20 job at the D-I level.
Indiana hired Dayton's head coach last summer. UCLA took four months to finally settle on Mick Cronin. But Michigan is going to sign a recent national champion and/or one of the best coaches not named Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari? Good luck with that.
Still, there's a long list of current head coaches with no ties to Michigan who are viable options.
The most popular names on Twitter in the first few hours after the Beilein-to-Cavs news broke were Ed Cooley (Providence), Mike White (Florida), Mike Brey (Notre Dame), Bobby Hurley (Arizona State) and Porter Moser (Loyola-Chicago).
Of that bunch, Cooley seems to make the most sense. He has done more with less than just about anyone over the past few years. He's young enough to be a potential long-term move (turns 50 in September), and he could break through with a program that has more recruiting pull than Providence.
I would also put Greg McDermott (Creighton) on the list. He has racked up at least 20 wins in eight of the last nine seasons despite transitioning from the Missouri Valley to the Big East. And Creighton's last coach before McDermott (Dana Altman) has done a mighty fine job at Oregon.
Really, though, pick any coach who has had moderate success over the past five years and he's probably at least on Michigan's list of targets. The Wolverines will move quickly to make this hire, but they'll be working the phones 24/7 to get through all of the candidates.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.