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Armour: Beilein Chases First* Title … or Will it be His Second?

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Michigan coach John Beilein gestures during the first half of an NCAA Tournament game against Texas A&M in Los Angeles. Photo: Jae C. Hong / AP

By Nancy Armour |

John Beilein is old school.

Defense and hard work are the foundation for his success. Cutting corners would never occur to him, let alone be something he actually would do.

So the idea that he would lay claim to the 2013 national title that Louisville was forced to vacate, he’s having none of it.

“We lost the game, they won it,” Beilein said Sunday. “I’m going to leave it like that, and that’s the way it should be.”

Maybe. But if Central Florida can call itself national champions after the lone unbeaten season in college football, then Beilein and Michigan can claim the 2013 title.

Louisville was stripped of the national championship after the NCAA found a Cardinals assistant had paid an escort service thousands of dollars for sex parties with players and recruits. It’s one of the seedier scandals college basketball has ever had, and the gaping hole in the list of national champions is a constant reminder of the game’s moral failings.

Awarding the title to Michigan would restore some dignity to the whole mess. (Michigan fans will contend Louisville never should have won, anyway, still infuriated with that phantom foul on Trey Burke late in the second half.)

But Beilein insists he’s not looking for a title to define or validate him, whether it’s from that game or Monday night’s championship against Villanova.

“I honestly say I wouldn’t look at it any differently. I really would not,” Beilein said, when asked how he’d view his career if it included a national title. “Others may. But I don’t think (wife) Kathleen and I would look at it any different.

“You hang in there and you just do your absolute best every single day,” Beilein said. “You just do everything you can to be the best coach, the best mentor, the best teacher, the best husband, grandfather, father, every day, and you go do it again. And that’s all I want to be.”

Beilein’s name might not have the same cachet as, say, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, John Calipari or even Jay Wright, his opponent in Monday night’s game. But his résumé is equal to anyone’s in the game.

He has a career record of 541-317 and has had only four losing seasons in 26 years, three of which came in his first seasons with a team. In 16 years at major programs, West Virginia and Michigan, Beilein has made the NCAA men’s tournament 10 times.

Monday night’s title game is the second in six years for the Wolverines, the kind of frequency normally associated with the Dukes, Kentuckys and Carolinas of the world.

“Everybody in our business really respects him,” Wright said. “You know when you play a team, this guy does a really good job, they’re hard to guard. And when we do something, they always adjust. He’s respected as one of the best in that area.”

Knowing you have the respect of your peers is the highest compliment there is and, for Beilein, that is enough.

He’s also smart enough to know that basing your self-worth on a title is foolish because the best team and the national champions aren’t always one and the same. How many times has a powerhouse team been derailed by a late injury? Or a last-second basket?

The tournament, important as it is, is something of a crapshoot.

“Funny bounces of the ball will determine the champion,” Beilein said. “And that’s why we love it. We just absolutely love it. And things could turn a game just like that.”

Beilein doesn’t say all this because it sounds good or he knows he’d come off as an arrogant fool if he said he craved a title. It’s the same thing he’s said to his staff for years, said Jon Sanderson, Michigan’s longtime strength and conditioning coach.

“He’s always about let’s just win today,” said Sanderson, the lone holdover on Beilein’s staff from 2013. “That’s just how he is. He’s so focused on what’s our job today — we have film, we’ve got a walk through, we’ve got a shootaround — he’s not even thinking about tomorrow.”

And the what-if of 2013? It never even comes up, Sanderson said.

Beilein is secure in his accomplishments and how he’s reached them.

In this cut-throat and sometimes soulless business, that’s worth as much as any title or trophy.

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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