LEWISTON — The Beilein Era is officially underway at Niagara University.
New men’s basketball coach Patrick Beilein was welcomed by NU fans, students, coaches, staff and administrators at an introductory press conference Tuesday at the Gallagher Center.
The 36-year-old was joined by his wife, Kristen, and their 1-year-old son, Tommy, as well as his parents, John and Kathleen. John Beilein, of course, is a Burt native and the wildly successful coach of the Michigan Wolverines.
In his first public appearance as Niagara’s coach, Patrick Beilein, who has the name, looks, confidence and charisma to impress even John F. Kennedy, pushed all the right buttons for a fan base that desperately needed a shot in the arm.
“We are going to win at an extremely high level, we are going to do it the right way, we are going to win championships,” Beilein said in his introductory speech. “... With our culture, we’ll hang a lot of banners going forward.”
He also promised to pack the Gallagher Center, the way he remembered it from John’s days coaching rival Canisius College back in the 1990s. He promised fans they “will not be disappointed” and John “that one day I’ll be just as good as you and win a national championship, as I’m sure you will in the next few years.” He promised his Purple Eagles are “going to be hard-nosed and not too many teams are going to enjoy playing Niagara.”
He even promised a victory for the Sabres, who showed Patrick and John on the jumbotron as they attended Tuesday night’s game at KeyBank Center. Brian Duff and Martin Biron interviewed him on MSG during the first intermission.
(They lost 3-2. An improvement, but maybe he can’t work miracles.)
To keep those promises, Beilein will have to turn around a program that went 64-129 in six years under Chris Casey. He said that starts with changing the culture, “one step at a time.”
He used the acronym UPAID — unity, passion, appreciation, integrity and diligence — to outline his plan.
“Coach your team one day at a time,” Beilein said his famous father told him.
“I kind of embrace the pressure.
I enjoy it. I lived it as a player being a coach’s son. ... So that pressure kind of gets me going — it’s my engine.
And I won’t back down from it.”
Beilein also said his Purple Eagles might not be as far off as one might think.
He watched some film over the weekend to get a feel for his new players, whom he met for the first time after the press conference.
“There are some parts here,” Beilein said, “... but like I said in the press conference, it’s got to start off the court with the little things, the attention to detail.”
All 10 returning Niagara players — James Towns, Kierell Green, Greg Kuakumensah, Justin Roberts, Keleaf Tate, Dominik Fragala, Marcus Hammond, Raheem Solomon, Ousmane Diop and Steve Levnaic — were in attendance.
While all of those players were recruited by Casey, the potential of playing for Beilein wasn’t lost on them.
“In a couple years, this program could be really good,” said Solomon, a freshman. “Coach Beilein, he knows a lot. As you can see, he knows what he’s doing.
The time he’s been coaching, he’s been winning championships, so I think that’s going to be very (good) for the program.”
Also in attendance were assistant coach Fred Dupree, who played for John Beilein at Canisius, and director of basketball operations Tavares Campbell, who are still under contract at Niagara.
Patrick Beilein said he had not made any decisions as to his staff.
He said he had a few names in mind but would also interview the current coaches.
“Once I evaluate the players and what I believe we need, I kind of will slowly evaluate what I need as a coaching staff,” he said.
“I have a few guys in mind who I think I’ll bring along, but I have yet to reach out to them.”
Beilein will have at least three scholarships to play with, if no players transfer.
He sees big things for Niagara and believes he can convince recruits of the same.
“This conference is great,” he said. “... I consider this a mid-major. This is not a low-major. This is a mid-major that you can sell to these kids.”
Beilein’s first Niagara practice is scheduled for today.
Follow sports editor Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for coverage of your local teams.