All in all, it's got to be pretty good to be John Beilein. Widely respected in his profession. Immensely well-compensated. Peaking as a coach in just about every way -- tactics, recruiting, position, profile, and overall success -- late into his remarkable, winding career.
Beilein is self-made. He's never been an assistant coach. He is the only man to win at least 20 games at the junior college, NAIA, Division III and Division I levels. His Michigan program just competed for a national title in one of the most thrilling season-closers in recent memory, after which he sent two players to the NBA draft. He has another solid recruiting class coming in, and he has potential lottery picks Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III returning to the fold. Life is good, right?
Right! Except Beilein, despite all the success, still has to deal with stuff like this:
Three days after Michigan's loss to Louisville, Wayne Brumm [McGary and Robinson's former AAU coach] traveled to Ann Arbor to meet with Beilein and his staff. He knew that McGary wanted to make the same decision as his fellow freshman Glenn Robinson III, who is McGary's close friend and former AAU teammate. Brumm wanted some assurances that McGary and Robinson would be permitted to unleash their full potential -- not as role players, but as featured performers. Beilein did not make any explicit promises, but he indicated that if the players did their part, then they would have every opportunity to show what they can do, especially after Burke and Hardaway turned pro.
That's from SI.com writer Seth Davis's feature on the unlikely path McGary's career has taken, and it is a very good recap of the various ups and downs the highly touted prospect has faced in his immensely promising college career to date. That excerpt isn't crucial in understanding McGary's story. But it is completely, totally, 100 percent amazing.
For starters, the entire premise of the meeting is hilarious. McGary and Robinson are without question Beilein's two best returning players, returning to a team that just lost its most reliable veteran wing (Hardaway) and the national player of the year (Burke), both of whom combined to attempt 1,020 field goals in 2012-13. Michigan isn't going to be bereft of talent next year, but seriously: We're worried Beilein is going to bury his two lottery picks because ... why, exactly? Where are those shots going to go? What "assurances" do you really need?
But here's the worst part: Beilein and his staff have to take that meeting. They can't risk angering someone close to their two best players, both of whom are considering leaving for the NBA draft. They can't blatantly brush the guy off. They have to take the meeting, and sit and listen to the "concerns" and the desire for "assurances." They they have to provide those assurances in a way that keeps everyone happy without making any promises that undermine the coach's essential authority to govern his basketball team -- an authority he earned by grinding his way to the top for 30 years.
That doesn't mean this particular instance was necessarily contentious. It sounds like it went pretty well. Often, these kinds of relationships are casual and continuous; the best coaches know how to keep things running.
But if Beilein had to assure an AAU coach that the two best players on Michigan's roster will be given the opportunity to showcase their skills, imagine the kinds of meetings other college coaches and assistants must field -- from the children's soccer team-style "my kid's not playing enough" to "we're thinking about the draft, unless" all the way to "we've got a better offer elsewhere."
We think of recruiting as this discrete thing, cordoned off into months, finished when the dotted line is signed. But recruiting never really stops. It must be maddening.