Two weeks ago I lamented how it was hard to write about WVU's run in the National Invitation Tournament because Mountaineers games were being played while the paper was being printed on Tuesday evenings. I did offer up the suggestion two weeks ago that West Virginia coach John Beilein would likely be contacted by Michigan about its vacant head basketball coaching position at the conclusion of the Mountaineers' run in the NIT.
Last week a column would have been easy to write, though the Tuesday timing snafu was at it again.
Sitting in a Baltimore hotel room last Tuesday morning I was a couple paragraphs into a column about how Beilein had led the Mountaineers to a NIT championship and now the coach was expected to announce he was going to Michigan on Tuesday afternoon.
Before I was too far along with the column it occurred to me that I should make sure I could transmit the material via email. While I could receive email, for some reason the internet connection the hotel provided would not allow me to send email, so I scrapped the effort since other matters were pressing.
Since last Tuesday morning the best word I can use to describe what has occurred in the West Virginia University basketball program is, WOW!
Two weeks ago I did not expect to see this story unfold the way it has. I did not really think Beilein would go to Michigan. I thought getting Bob Huggins to replace Beilein, if he left, would be a 50-50 proposition at best. To have him on board 48 hours after Beilein walked out is still somewhat baffling.
There is so much information out there I'm not even sure where to begin. Apologies in advance if I begin to bounce all over the place.
First of all, congratulations to the Mountaineers for winning the NIT championship. Granted, Mountaineer fans may be the only people in the world who care about a NIT title, but Mountaineer fans care a lot.
That title was significant for a team that is returning a large and promising throng of players next year. That is reason number one I thought Beilein would stay at WVU. The number two reason being the $2.5 million buyout clause in Beilein's contract. Beilein had successfully implemented his system using a basically young and athletic team. Somewhere there would seem to be some allegiance to these players, all of whom he recruited.
In spite of that, the rumors swirled during the weekend of the Final Four. Trying to follow this while travelling was hard, but by staying in touch with a few shut-in friends, who do nothing but sit in front of a computer screen, I was able to determine several things.
First, Beilein was Michigan's top choice.
Second, on Sunday he was leaving WVU.
Third, later on Sunday he was staying at WVU.
Over the next 24 hours there seemed to be some waffling, but late on Monday there seemed to be very little chance he was staying at West Virginia. A subsequent story reported Beilein accepted the position on Sunday, but had not signed anything nor had he informed anyone in the WVU administration of his intentions at that point.
By now though my personal opinion was if the man doesn't want to be here, then so be it. He has done a magnificent job in five years. Four trips to the post season included an Elite Eight appearance, a Sweet 16 appearance and a NIT Championship. He has certainly left the program in better shape that he found it. And all that would be fine if I could just get the answer to a couple questions.
Michigan has said it will not pay Beilein's buyout which amounts to $500K per season for the next five years. Beilein's deal at Michigan is reported to be $1.3 million a year. WVU reportedly countered Michigan's offer with a similar number. So, even if WVU's counter offer was $1.1 million, by the time Beilein pays WVU $500K each of the next five years, he will only be making $800K at UM. Beilein wanted out of Morgantown so badly he essentially took a pay cut, and all this without ever visiting Ann Arbor.
Again, WOW! Reports persist Beilein was unhappy with the buyout clause and attempts to have it removed from his contract were unsuccessful thus causing a rift between Beilein and the athletic department. Even if that is the case, why take less money and walk out on your players who undoubtedly were made promises by Beilein? What a way to make a point.
According to some players, in a meeting with his WVU players last Tuesday Beilein refused to tell them why he was leaving despite being asked repeatedly. A couple players were seen leaving the Coliseum in tears following the meeting. Beilein then addressed the media saying, "it is the right time for me to leave."
The hollow feeling felt by Mountaineer nation last Tuesday did not last long however. Within two days WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong had hired Bob Huggins away from Kansas State where the WVU alum had finished his first season with the Wildcats. While to some this hire is a no-brainer, Huggins' coming home party has not been well received by all Mountaineer fans. Many in the national media have bashed Huggins.
Next week the Huggins hire will be discussed, but it should be noted, for you nay sayers, that Pastilong consulted with Jerry West " about a dozen times in the last two days," prior to the hire.