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. Throwback Thursday: UConn ‘Shocks The World’ against Duke (VIDEO)

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:48 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The last two times these teams have squared off in big games, the outcome has been memorable.

  2. New Year’s Resolutions: Virginia Cavaliers

    Dec 18, 2014, 10:53 AM EST

    Justin Anderson (AP Photo) Justin Anderson (AP Photo)

    Three-point shooting might be the key to the Virginia season.

  3. Lauren Hill’s playing career over, to become honorary coach

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:59 AM EST

    Lauren Hill AP

    She may not be playing anymore, but Lauren’s time with the basketball program has not yet come to an end.

  4. Cal Poly’s David Nwaba spins through traffic for a two-handed finish (VIDEO)

    Dec 18, 2014, 8:45 AM EST

    Cal Poly Athletics Cal Poly Athletics

    David Nwaba scored 11 second-half points to help lead the Mustangs back from a 14-points halftime deficit. Here are two of those points.

  5. Cody Doolin’s late-game heroics push UNLV past Portland (VIDEO)

    Dec 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EST

    Will Cummings, Cody Doolin AP

    Doolin finished the game with 15 points, three assists and no turnovers, and made two huge plays to get UNLV the two-point win over Portland.

  6. American’s struggles makes Cincinnati’s win over San Diego State enormous

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:04 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    This is the first win that the American has landed over a ranked team.

  7. Michigan State’s Branden Dawson suffers sprained left wrist in win over Eastern Michigan

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:00 AM EST

    Branden Dawson, Jalen Hayes, Matt Costello AP

    Dawson’s injury occurred on the same night that freshman Javon Bess made his regular season debut for the Spartans.

  8. Senior forward/center Erik Copes leaves George Mason program

    Dec 17, 2014, 10:33 PM EST

    Fordham v George Mason Fordham v George Mason

    Copes played in just four games this season due to injury.

  9. Green Bay with an off-the-glass alley-oop in a half court set (VIDEO)

    Dec 17, 2014, 10:07 PM EST

    AP AP

    The best part is that it was very much intentional

  10. Late Night Snacks: Ralston Turner, Trevor Lacey lead NC State past Tennessee

    Dec 17, 2014, 9:20 PM EST

    Ralston Turner AP

    Delaware State’s Amere May scored more points than anyone in college basketball has this season.

  11. Already lacking front court depth, Siena loses starting forward to ankle injury

    Dec 17, 2014, 8:19 PM EST

    Lavon Long,Karachi Edo Lavon Long,Karachi Edo

    With Lavon Long and Brett Bisping now sidelined, the Saints are without their two best rebounders.

  12. New Year’s Resolutions: Texas Longhorns

    Dec 17, 2014, 6:55 PM EST

    Rick Barnes Rick Barnes

    Defense and turnovers will be the keys for Texas when Big 12 play begins.

  13. Chase for 180: So far, so good for Virginia’s Justin Anderson

    Dec 17, 2014, 5:56 PM EST

    Justin Anderson, Jordan Price AP

    After shooting 40.7% from the field and 29.4% from three as a sophomore, Anderson’s off to a hot start for the sixth-ranked Cavaliers.

  14. Dayton dismisses big men Devon Scott, Jalen Robinson from program

    Dec 17, 2014, 4:26 PM EST

    Archie Miller Archie Miller

    With these dismissals Dayton has no eligible players taller than 6-foot-6.

  15. Pregame Shootaround: No. 19 SDSU gets a test at Cincinnati, Vols take on N.C. State

    Dec 17, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    Winston Shepard (AP Photo) AP

    This may be the most interesting night of hoops this week.

  16. New Year’s Resolutions: Kansas Jayhawks

    Dec 17, 2014, 3:44 PM EST

    Cliff Alexander (AP Photo) Cliff Alexander (AP Photo)

    What changes will Kansas make to get better by March?

  17. Injury depleted New Mexico loses another player

    Dec 17, 2014, 2:30 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    They are so short-handed that even the head coach is participating in practices.

  18. Report: Demetrius Treadwell no longer enrolled at Akron

    Dec 17, 2014, 1:53 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Treadwell was accused of assaulting a member of the women’s team.

  19. Illinois State loses leading scorer for 4-to-6 weeks

    Dec 17, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    Illinois State athletics Illinois State athletics

    DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell broke his right hand in a win over DePaul.

  20. Wichita State’s offensive struggles highlighted by come-from-behind win vs. Alabama

    Dec 17, 2014, 11:16 AM EST

    Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo) Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)

    The Shockers miss Cleanthony Early, but how much will this hurt them in the long-term?