Skip to content

How Jim Boeheim helped launch the careers of Rick Pitino and John Beilein

Apr 4, 2013, 2:55 PM EST

Jim Boeheim AP

ATLANTA — On Saturday afternoon, John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines will take the floor against Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange in one of the more intriguing and unexpected Final Four matchups in recent memory.

Syracuse lost seven of their last 12 regular season games. Michigan lost five of their last 10. Both programs were written off by just about everyone outside of the locker rooms at the Carrier Dome and Crisler Arena. And yet, here they are, preparing to play on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, 80 minutes of basketball away from winning a national title.

The biggest irony of all is that Beilein, one of the most well-respected coaching minds in the country, may not be here if it wasn’t for his opponent on Saturday.

Beilein’s back story has been well-documented. A descendant of the family that Saving Private Ryan was based on and a member of a noted coaching family in Western New York, Beilein began his career as a high school coach before moving on up to the Community College ranks. That was in 1978, two years after Boeheim took over at Syracuse. Beilein spent four years at Erie CC before jumping to Nazareth for a season before landing what he believed to be a big break when he was offered a job by Division II LeMoyne.

And that’s where his career started to stagnate.

A couple different Division I jobs in the area opened up during that time. Beilein applied for and was passed over each time. Finally, when Canisius came open in 1992, Beilein he was hired, but it wasn’t without some help. A call from Boeheim certainly helped move things along.

“He assisted me a great deal in actually getting my first Division I job,” Beilein said on Wednesday.

At Canisius, Beilein had five successful seasons which led to being hired by Richmond and, eventually, West Virginia. Boeheim had a hand in that as well, convincing West Virginia’s athletic director to offer the job to Beilein even though that meant that he would have to count Beilein as a conference foe. It was Beilein’s postseason success with the Mountaineers — an Elite 8 run in 2005 and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2006 — that played a major role in Michigan giving him the job in 2007.

And while it may have taken him six years, Beilein has turned the Wolverines into a national title contender.

But Beilein isn’t the only coach that Boeheim helped mentor.

Back in 1976, when Boeheim first got the Syracuse job, he needed to hire a coaching staff. As legend has it, Boeheim called Pitino down to the lobby of his hotel in New York City on Pitino’s wedding night, convincing him to take a job as an assistant immediately so that Pitino could get out on the road and land a recruit named Louis Orr.

But here’s where it gets interesting: Pitino was hired in large part due to his association with five-star basketball and the recruits that he would be able to bring in as a result. That wasn’t the only reason that Pitino was hired, however.

“[Boehiem] wanted to play more man-to-man defense,” Pitino said. “He was under Roy Danforth, who was strictly zone. Back then we played a lot of man-to-man. I was fortunate, I got to learn the zone.”

He sure was fortunate.

Pitino’s Louisville teams mix-up their defensive looks quite a bit. They press, they play man-to-man, they play 2-3 zone, sometimes they play all three on a single possession. But what he’s known for right now — the defense that has carried him to back-to-back Final Four — is that 2-3 zone.

The defense that he learned in his two seasons on the Syracuse bench.

Pitino and Beilein are both terrific basketball minds. They would have had success in this business with or without Boeheim’s help.

But it’s interesting to think that Boeheim could end up beating not one, but two of the young coaches that he mentored in their younger days.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Latest Posts
  1. Report: Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston accused of violating probation

    Feb 27, 2015, 10:20 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    An off-campus altercation back in 2010 led to a year-long suspension for the Villanova forward.

  2. Jim Boeheim uses classic rant about Gerry McNamara to praise Rakeem Christmas

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:15 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Jim Boeheim goes back almost nine years to describe Rakeem Christmas’ importance to this year’s team.

  3. Campbell’s Reco McCarter throws down 360 dunk … again (VIDEO)

    Feb 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EST

    AP AP

    This isn’t the first time he’s done this in a game.

  4. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings will not be suspended

    Feb 27, 2015, 4:45 PM EST

    AP AP

    The Vandy coach was quick to apology following last night’s incident.

  5. Michigan head coach John Beilein remains ‘hopeful’ that point guard will return this season

    Feb 27, 2015, 4:25 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Derrick Walton Jr. hasn’t played in just over a month, but he’s still bothered by an issue with his right foot.

  6. UTEP head coach Tim Floyd suspended one game by Conference USA

    Feb 27, 2015, 3:20 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Floyd was ejected with 10:05 remaining in the Miners’ 77-60 loss at Louisiana Tech, and he failed to leave the court in a timely manner.

  7. Florida reinstates junior forward following three-game suspension

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:59 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Billy Donovan would like to see his veteran forward make some strides in the commitment department moving forward.

  8. NCAA tournament berth the final step for St. John’s senior class

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:16 PM EST

    Steve Lavin's three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo) AP

    On the heels of St. John’s last NCAA appearance in 2011, seven players joined the program. Three remain, and their aim is to get to the Big Dance as seniors.

  9. Pregame Shootaround: Valparaiso looks to clinch outright Horizon League title

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:32 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Also of note is the second meeting of the season between rivals Iona and Manhattan.

  10. Junior guard starting to give No. 7 Arizona much-needed perimeter shooting

    Feb 27, 2015, 12:12 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Shooting 7-for-10 from three over the last two games, Gabe York has hit multiple three-pointers in consecutive games for the first time since mid-December. That’s a good development for Arizona.

  11. Bracketology: Kentucky reigns and March arrives

    Feb 27, 2015, 11:01 AM EST

    John Calipari, Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ulis John Calipari, Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ulis

    While the Wildcats continue to roll along, other one-seeds are up for discussion as the season moves into the month of March.

  12. Defensive lapses cost Michigan State dearly against Minnesota (VIDEO)

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:55 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Leading by six with 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Michigan State looked to be on their way to a home win over Minnesota. Then they fouled three-point shooters on two separate occasions.

  13. Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the season’s best day of games

    Feb 27, 2015, 8:07 AM EST

    The Utes fell in Tucson, but they'll be fine (AP Photo) AP

    I hope you’re ready for a thrilling day of hoops.

  14. Late Night Snacks: Minnesota wins at Michigan State, No. 7 Arizona and No. 13 Utah roll

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:31 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Michigan State fouled three-point shooters on two separate occasions late in regulation, and it set the stage for an overtime loss at home.

  15. Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings apologizes for postgame outburst directed at freshman guard Wade Baldwin IV

    Feb 26, 2015, 11:47 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The Vandy freshman taunted a Tennessee player as time expired in the Commodores’ win, and his head coach read him the riot act in the handshake line.

  16. Bubble Banter: Just how safe is Michigan State, and did Ohio State punch a ticket?

    Feb 26, 2015, 10:29 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Who were the winners and the losers on the bubble on Thursday?

  17. Jae’Sean Tate produces another quality performance as Ohio State blows out Nebraska

    Feb 26, 2015, 9:17 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Tate scored a career-high 22 points Thursday night, and his move into the starting lineup has helped Ohio State.

  18. West Virginia announces addition of five year-old to basketball program (VIDEO)

    Feb 26, 2015, 8:35 PM EST

    Bob Huggins Bob Huggins

    Five year-old Nicholas Wince spent the entire day with West Virginia prior to their win over Texas, signing a National Letter of Intent as well.