Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"U-M hires Beilein, Martin learns his lesson"

Well, you can't say Bill Martin is cheap anymore. You can't say the University of Michigan athletic director isn't willing to spend money on the basketball program. And, most importantly, you can't say he wasn’t able to lure one of the nation's best available coaches to Ann Arbor.

On Monday it was reported that John Beilein had accepted Martin's offer to become Michigan's new head coach. In order to sign Beilein, Martin had to either pay off a $2.5 million buyout on Beilein's West Virginia contract or reach "some type of agreement" on the buyout, the “Detroit Free Press” reported.

Either way, it's pretty clear that Martin spent a boatload of money to bring the 54-year-old to campus.

If only he had been willing to put forth this kind of dough six years ago.

In March of 2001, Rick Pitino came thisclose to signing on to become Michigan's head coach. If that had happened, undoubtedly, we wouldn't be talking about a nine-year NCAA tournament drought. Heck, the Wolverines might have already had a Sweet 16 appearance.

But, according to a "Michigan Daily" article from March 2001, Martin only offered Pitino a base salary of $900,000, and the great - but very arrogant - coach fled for Louisville, in the state he loved, for a contract worth $1 million a year.

According to reports, Pitino said money wasn't a factor in his decision and that his wife, Joanne, changed his mind. But don't tell me if Michigan had upped its offer to, say, $1.5 million annually, he would have let some Bluegrass Lovin' keep him from Ann Arbor. Granted, in 2001 $1.5 million would have been a LOT of money (no one was talking about contracts worth $3 million a year, like they are today at with the Billy Donovan situation). But, it also would have turned the program around. Pitino is one of the top 10 coaches in America.

Tommy Amaker isn't one of the top 100 coaches in the country. For six years under Amaker, the Michigan program wallowed in mediocrity while Pitino took Louisville to the Final Four in 2005. Just think about what coulda been.

Yes, it's time to move on. Yes, Beilein is a good hire. He's had winning records in 26 of 29 seasons as a head coach (he never was an assistant); he's taken LeMoyne, Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia to the NCAA tournament, including the Mountaineers to the Elite Eight in 2005.

Where they lost to... Louisville, coached by Rick Pitino.

It is clear Martin learned his lesson. He learned that it's worth a few extra hundred thousand dollars - from Michigan's fat athletic budget - to bring in a quality coach who won't just run a clean program (about the only thing Amaker was successful at doing), but also win a lot of games.

That's what Beilein will do.

That's what Pitino would have done. And still be doing.

And if Michigan and Louisville meet up in the Big Dance in the next few years?

Well, that 2005 game went to overtime.

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