Skip to content

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

Apr 4, 2013, 2:55 PM EDT

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. Five-star freshman still waiting to be cleared by NCAA to play at Kansas

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:33 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Cheick Diallo was rated as the fifth-best player in the Class of 2015.

  2. Minnesota will grant Jarvis Johnson a release if he were to pursue one

    Aug 4, 2015, 8:58 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Jarvis Johnson was not cleared to play at Minnesota back in mid-June.

  3. Four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher down to six schools

    Aug 4, 2015, 7:38 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The four-star point guard cut his list in half on Tuesday night.

  4. Student who accused Oregon players of sexual assault settles lawsuit for $800,000

    Aug 4, 2015, 5:24 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The lawsuit stems from an alleged incident back in March of 2014.

  5. Mamadi Diakite becomes Virginia’s third four-star recruit in Class of 2016

    Aug 4, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The 6-foot-9 power forward becomes the third four-star recruit in the Class of 2016 to commit to the Cavaliers.

  6. Virginia and Cal announce home and home series

    Aug 4, 2015, 3:01 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Both teams will be ranked in the preseason top 15 this season.

  7. Mississippi State wing arrested for driving on suspended license

    Aug 4, 2015, 1:52 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Xavier Stapleton is sitting out this season after transferring from Louisiana Tech.

  8. No. 2 prospect obliterates defender with a tip-dunk (VIDEO)

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:03 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.01.12 AM

    This kid isn’t even a sophomore yet.

  9. Fixing his flaws: How Kris Dunn has attacked the two weaknesses in his game

    Aug 3, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    There are two glaring weaknesses to Kris Dunn’s game. Here’s how he’s gone about trying to fix them this summer.

  10. Ball is Life offers a unique look at the Under Armour Association, road to Elite 24, in new video

    Aug 3, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/adidas Kelly Kline/adidas

    A cool documentary-style approach to the Under Armour Association in preparation for the Elite 24.

  11. Nebraska hopes foreign trip can give young players experience

    Aug 3, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Nebraska is hoping a four-game trip in Spain helps with their freshmen.

  12. Report: Baylor forward will leave the program

    Aug 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Baylor is losing a reserve forward to transfer.

  13. Report: Four-star forward could choose a school soon

    Aug 3, 2015, 4:50 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/adidas) (Kelly Kline/adidas)

    Mamadi Diakite, a four-star forward, could decide between three schools soon, per a report.

  14. Penn State lands their most important recruit in a decade in Tony Carr

    Aug 3, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT

    chambers Getty Images

    Tony Carr is a four-star point guard that picked Penn State over Maryland, SMU and Providence.

  15. Investigation funded by Illinois clears Illinois women’s coaches of racism claims

    Aug 3, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT

    Matt Bollant (AP Photo) AP

    The investigation was conducted by an outside law firm and paid for by the university.

  16. Five-star guard Rawle Alkins cuts his list to ten

    Aug 3, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Alkins might be the best player from New York City since Lance Stephenson.