Le Moyne head coach Pat Beilein follows in father John’s footsteps
By Billy Heyen
As a child, Pat Beilein tagged along with his father, John, to Le Moyne practices and games. Pat watched from the wooden bleachers that used to line the court. He and his father hustled into the boiler room in the back of the gym on days when they arrived during the winter months. Players babysat Pat and his siblings when their parents went out to a movie, Pat said.
“I was always around the game, I was always in the gym,” Pat said. “Those were my earliest memories. It was like a huge playpen for me, jungle gym. I loved coming with him to work.”
Now, Pat walks that same hardwood, entering his fourth year at Le Moyne. He played for John at West Virginia. He was John’s graduate assistant at Michigan, where Pat’s father still coaches. After a few other stops in between, he’s back where he spent time as a toddler and young child, this time head coaching the Dolphins. Le Moyne made the NCAA Division II tournament each of the last two seasons, including a 27-7 season last year which ended in the Elite Eight. Pat and Le Moyne play Syracuse on Wednesday night in the Carrier Dome for the Orange’s final exhibition game.
Pat has never lived a basketball season when John wasn’t a head college coach. Thirty-five years as the son of a head college basketball coach at Le Moyne, then Canisius, then Richmond, then West Virginia and then Michigan.
“I’m extremely lucky to have him as a mentor and a father to be able to learn from him a little bit of what they do,” Pat said.
It all started at Le Moyne. Pat was born on March 23, 1983. The next day, John interviewed for the Dolphins’ job and was hired a week later. He held it until 1992, meaning for the first nine years of Pat’s life, he was the son of Le Moyne’s head coach. As early as high school, Pat thought about coaching.
When he went to West Virginia to play in the Big East for John, Pat considered himself an extension of the coach on the court. In this case, that meant being an extension of his father.
“I could tell that he had the feel for coaching,” John said. “… Pat was like that, from the very beginning. That’s what I think he loved learning, more about the game and teaching it, and he loved being a student of the game and as a student, he’s now a teacher.”
Pat spent a few years playing professionally overseas after WVU, and by the time his career ended, John was at Michigan. Pat followed and was a UM graduate assistant from 2008-10. Every sideline Pat was on with John, whether as a player or assistant, John wasn’t “coach,” he was “dad.”
John “always” trusted Pat’s opinions at Michigan, he said, because he figured his son knew him as well as anyone. When Pat’s time as graduate assistant was up, he had the chance to stay at Michigan as director of player operations.
“‘Pat you need to go learn from somebody else,’” Pat remembered John saying. “‘You coached with me, I coached you. You need to move on, go see how other people do it.’”
So Pat went to Dartmouth, where he learned from a first-year head coach, Paul Cormier. Then a year at Bradley, where he did the same under Geno Ford. At both stops, he learned the things he liked and didn’t like. In 2012, he earned his first head coaching job, at West Virginia Wesleyan, where he coached for two seasons.
After the 2013-14 season, Pat took a leap. He was “sought” by a couple NBA teams, he said, and signed on with the Utah Jazz as a player development coach. But he realized quickly that he missed being a head coach, attached with it the authority and idea to build a program. When the Le Moyne job became a possibility, Pat put everything into it, he said.
“I was fortunate to get back in the head coaching role,” Pat said. “And I don’t think I’ll ever let it go again.”
His dad cautioned him that there would be Division I assistants applying and to not get his hopes up. In June 2015, he received a call from Le Moyne Director of Athletics, Matt Bassett.
“You can have some time,” Pat remembered Bassett said.
“I don’t need time. I’m on board,” Pat said. “I’m ready to get this thing done.”
Once he accepted the job, Pat had flashbacks to his time as a child in the Dolphins gym. He drove by a couple houses his family had lived in in Syracuse when John coached there. While it’s been renovated since, at the time it was the same hardwood and bleachers that John had coached on. John’s office was behind the back wall of Pat’s current office.
After a 10-17 first year when Pat and a former player, Russell Sangster, said it was tough to integrate his culture on a squad he didn’t recruit, the Dolphins have made two-straight NCAA tournaments. Pat’s guided his team through the principle of “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing.” He wants them to get up early, go to class, get breakfast and plan their days. And he wants them to do well.
“I don’t want to say (culture) has attributed to the success,” Pat said. “We’ve had some really good players. But I definitely think it has taken us to where we are now.”
When now-junior Tom Brown enrolled at Le Moyne, his parents pointed out that he’d be playing for John Beilein’s son. Brown downplayed the significance. “He’s my coach now,” he said.
After practices in the 2016-17 season, Beilein worked with the then-freshman Brown for 10 to 15 minutes. He recognized that there were a lot of moving parts in Brown’s shot and tried to simplify it, Brown said.
“He just told me to set the ball there, it’s something very simple that he just kind of saw,” Brown said. “And it was effective. He like jokes around, ‘I guess I’m a guru, I can pick that stuff up like that.’ He like jokes about it, but it’s really true that he does help you become a better player.”
Brown shot 50 percent from the free-throw line his freshman year before working with Beilein. Sophomore year, he shot 87.5.
As Pat enters season four with the Dolphins, the wooden bleachers he used to watch practice from as a kid are gone, and he isn’t sure what the future holds. This season he’s brought in nine transfers and a freshman with four returners. His future coaching career will depend on him balancing his wife and seven-month-old son with his urge to coach at the highest level.
But for right now, Pat is content to stay at Le Moyne. He’ll keep coaching basketball, the only thing it ever really made sense for him to do.
Pat might never match his father’s 724 NCAA wins. “You’re not as good as your dad in things like that,” Pat said.
“I’m not trying to be as good as him,” Pat added. “I want to be half as good as him, and I’ll take that.”