The track record of college coaches making the jump to the NBA is checkered at best. Brad Stevens has enjoyed success with the Boston Celtics but, with the exception of the “boy wonder” leaving Butler for an established, elite-tier professional franchise, the college-to-pro jump has been littered with stories of mediocrity or outright failure. Some of the biggest names of the sport, headlined by John Calipari and Rick Pitino, couldn’t gain long-term traction and others like Mike Montgomery, Lon Kruger or Tim Floyd are all but forgotten at the NBA level. Most recently, Fred Hoiberg had a rocky tenure in Chicago leading him back to school at Nebraska.
With that in mind, the Cleveland Cavaliers investing a five-year contract in now-former Michigan head coach John Beilein may seem fraught with peril.
Quite honestly, there is the potential of failure with this hire and it may not be the fault of Beilein if the stars don’t align. The Cavaliers have produced a mixed bag in recent years, with the highest of highs during the LeBron James era to the mess that ensued when he left the first time for Miami. Owner Dan Gilbert doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation across the league and, even if things may be calming a bit under the leadership of GM Koby Altman, Cleveland isn’t seen as a model franchise in the post-LeBron world. When mixing that reality with the leap Beilein is facing, skepticism is warranted and frankly reasonable.
However, Beilein isn’t a typical college coach. First, he is already 66 years old and, well, that may not be ideal for a long-term NBA candidate. Given his age, Beilein may not be able to coach for 15 years on an NBA bench but, on the flip side, the shelf life of the vast majority of head coaches in the league is comparatively short and, with the five-year investment already on the table, Beilein should be able to tackle the gig into his early 70’s.