We’ve known it was coming for a couple of days, but Wednesday afternoon it became official.
John Beilein resigned as coach Cavaliers, effective immediately. J.B. Bickerstaff, his lead assistant and a former head coach in Houston and Memphis, will take over.
“Over these last nine months, I have given my all to this organization, but after much reflection, I have decided that it is best that I step back and resign from my position as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and assist the organization in a different capacity…” Beilein said in a released statement.
“This was a very difficult decision for me, but I want to be clear – this was my decision to step down and I truly appreciate the understanding and support of the front office during this time. I find losing very challenging and this year has taken a much bigger toll on me than I expected. I grew concerned for the consequences this toll could potentially take on my own health and my family’s well-being down the road. I was not certain I could be at my best for the remainder of the season and in the future. That would not be fair to the players, coaches and support staff.”
“I also would not be doing this now, during the season, if J.B. Bickerstaff was not ready and capable to assume the head coaching role immediately and continue the rebuilding process that we have started.”
Beilein was brought in to develop young players while installing both his motion offense and a culture that would turn the Cavaliers into winners over time. That process got off to a rough start. The Cavaliers are 14-40 (the worst record in the East), they have the worst net rating in the league and are bottom seven in both offense and defense. Their young talent — particularly players such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — showed little signs of development. Meanwhile, the players have clashed with Beilein and each other, they taunted the older coach at times. The organization abandoned Beilein’s motion offense less than a month into the season.
Beyond all that, Beilein struggled to adapt to the NBA coaching style — the lack of practices, the losing, the fact that good NBA players have more organizational power than the coach, and that he couldn’t treat NBA players the way he did his college players. He was unable to relate to players, and his relationship with them became an issue when he reportedly said they were “no longer playing like thugs” during a film session. At age 67, Beilein wasn’t able to adapt to the NBA.
“John Beilein is one of the more accomplished basketball coaches in the history of our game and while it’s unexpected, we understand and respect his decision to step down as head coach of the Cavaliers,” Cleveland GM Kobe Altman said in a statement. “I was excited about the development of our young players, who have all shown growth and maturity under Coach Beilein. We are thankful for the time he spent as head coach with the Cavaliers and are looking forward to his continued contribution. The NBA is a unique business that sometimes requires aggressive risk-taking on important long-term decisions to move a franchise forward and ultimately compete for championships. I would like to thank the incredible fans of the Cavaliers for their support in both good and challenging times. Building a strong culture will continue to be the top priority here at the Cavaliers.”
Bickerstaff would be the fourth Cavaliers coach in less than two seasons since LeBron James left the organization.
This is the third time Bickerstaff has taken over a team midseason — he took over the Rockets when Kevin McHale was fired, then he took over Memphis when David Fizdale was let go. In both cases, the teams moved on and the next coach after Bickerstaff (Mike D’Antoni in Houston, Taylor Jenkins in Memphis) has had some level of success.
Beilein was owed about $12 million guaranteed over the next three years and reportedly will get a portion of that money, but not most of it. It’s not known what his exact new role with the Cavaliers will be. If he wants to return to college coaching, there will be a long line of interested universities.