BUFFALO — Even his induction Tuesday night into the Canisius College Sports Hall of Fame won't make Burt native John Beilein a Golden Griffins fan again any time soon.
No, Beilein, the record-setting men's basketball coach at colleges that included Canisius, Erie Community, Nazareth, Richmond, Le Moyne, West Virginia and Michigan and now the new head coach of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, said he's rooting for just one Western New York college basketball team this winter — the one, obviously, that his son, Patrick coaches, Niagara University.
“Canisus is not my favorite MAAC team anymore,” a smiling Beilein said to a round of laughter at Tuesday's press conference, prior to his Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner and ceremony at Canisius College's Montante Cultural Center on Main Street.
After a rough, but life-changing 10-18 season in his first year at Canisius (1992-93), Beilein, 66, coached the Golden Griffin to more victories in the 1990s than it ever did in history. Within that span was an incredible 16-game winning streak en route to a 22-7 season just the following year.
Beilein said he still has great memories growing up on Lake Road, across the street from Lake Ontario, where his biggest coaching influences were his uncles, the late Tom and Joe Niland, who were inducted into Canisius' first sports hall of fame class.
“That was the DNA that I came up with,” Beilein said. “My dad was a hard-working factory man, but he didn't have the keys to the gym.”
When asked if any of his other children were considering coaching careers, Beilein said they were not.
“I have three other children that I love just as much. None of them want any part of this business and don't see themselves doing this at all,” Beilein said.
“This is a grind. You're going to live a life of very few weekends and very few summer vacations so it's tough on your family,” he said.
“When it came to coaching at a place like Niagara and like Canisius — great schools — (Patrick) is going into a program that needs to be rebuilt a little — a perfect situation to go into. The Beileins and Nilands are from this area and I love the small Catholic schools where you know everyone on campus and you're in a great location close to Canada and you get get good, four-year guys that come through the program.”
When asked what his fondest memories were at Canisius, Beilein said he always thinks about his first season.
“When I think back, my mind always goes to not any of the good years, when were 10-18 the first year and how painful that was and how I grew as a coach during that time,” Beilein said, adding that he's faced similar situations in the past, as well as this year with the Cavs.
“Richmond, West Virginia, Michigan, now Cleveland — all very similar situations where they had really bad years before you go in and you have to go in and correct some things,” Beilein said.
“There are adults — some are 30 years old, but I also have some 18-19 years olds on my team right now,” Beilein said when asked about the differences in coaching college players and professionals.
“You have be able to address all those things. We have guys with families and guys who were freshmen last year playing somewhere,” Beilein said of the Cavs.
“They'll see through anyone who's fake, so you're not going in there and spending your whole practice cursing at them. I never did that anyhow,” he said.
“They say why college coaches cant do it in the NBA is because they are so used to being the center of attention,” Beilein said.
“I don't want to be the center of attention. I want them to be the center of attention,” he said. “Build a relationship with them first, then you can talk with them any way you want to.”
Last May, about a year after flirting with the idea of coaching the NBA's Detroit Pistons, Beilein left his post at Michigan and signed a five-year deal to coach the Cavaliers.
Beilein went 278-150 over a 12-year span at Michigan that included two trips to the national title game, two Big Ten titles and two Big Ten tournament titles.
“I'm just thrilled to be part of the elite men and women who are on that Canisius Hall of Fame wall,” Beilein said.
Follow sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrioon Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.