Make the Call

It's time for Mountaineer basketball head coach John Beilein to make a decision about the 2006-07 season at West Virginia, and I'm not referring to the identity of the starting shooting guard or which players will redshirt.

Rather, it's time for the accomplished coach to decide whether or not he is going to chase other coaching positions or remain at WVU as he attempts to continue the outstanding job he has done in raising the Mountaineer program from the depths of an 8-20 season to the current heights it enjoys.

Understand, I don't begrudge Beilein the opportunity to listen to what other programs have to say, and to hear what they have to offer. He has certainly earned that right, not only with his performance at West Virginia, but also with the many years of work he has put in at the lower levels of the collegiate basketball world. However, the time has come for him to make the call on the coming season, for a variety of reasons.

First, summer AAU tournaments are underway. Any doubt about where Beilein will be at the start of this fall could have a negative effect on West Virginia's recruiting efforts with the Class of 2007 and beyond. And although the Mountaineers did just get a verbal commitment from John Flowers, it must be remembered that pledge is not binding. And who's to say how it could be affecting the wooing of other targets, such as Huntington's Patrick Patterson? The upshot of this is that it can't be helping the recruiting process.

Second, the long, drawn-out process of being courted by first Indiana, and now North Carolina State, rubs against the loyalty and togetherness themes that Beilein bases much of his program upon. While Beilein shouldn't be criticized for listening to other proposals, he also shouldn't drag the process out for weeks on end. During the season, the veteran coach vented his frustration more than once with players that have transferred out of the West Virginia program, especially those that left long after the season was over. The timing of those departures put the Mountaineers in something of a crunch in terms of working out its roster for the following season, and the same would certainly be true were Beilein to depart at this late point in the corecruiting season.

I don't mean to appear as if I am questioning Beilein's integrity or sincerity here. I don't think any coach can achieve the things he has without being truly believing the core values he preaches to his players. Perhaps he thinks this is a different situation, or that he is handling it in the best way by providing a virtual "no comment" each time he is asked about a coaching vacancy. Perhaps he believes that by allowing most of the negotiations to be handled by his agent, he is remaining loyal to his current employer. However, from an outside vantage point, it certainly doesn't look as if he is fully committed to his current position when, in late April, he still will not deny his interest in another coaching job.

Although I was discouraged by Beilein's flirtation with Indiana, which only halted when the Hoosiers balked at the $3 million buyout in his contract. (Had that not been in place, I believe Beilein would be making the IU fund-raising banquet circuit right now instead of WVU's). I can, after some thinking, understand the attraction of the Indiana program. His style would go over well in the corn-fed heartland, and perhaps enough time has passed since the Bob Knight era to allow a newcomer a chance to succeed. The same, however, can't be said for North Carolina State. Why leave for a school that has the fourth-best basketball program in the state? (WVU is still number one in West Virginia, despite the petty "state champs" references tossed about by Marshall recently.)

A comparison of programs, however, isn't the point. The fact that his name is still being mentioned for open jobs around the country is. I can sympathize with the frustration coaches must go through every time their name is tossed out as a potential candidate. Sometimes there is solid information behind their listing, while sometimes it's mere speculation. That's simply the way things happen as teams look for new coaches, however, and trying to hide under a rock while your name is tossed about isn't the best way to deal with it.

On one level, I can see the validity of Beilein's approach in not commenting about any job openings where his name is mentioned. Even if he were to deny rumors or reports about him being interested in, say, the Missouri job, he'd likely have to do it again and again over the next few days as reporters followed up on the story. With his no comment policy, he stonewalls those looking for information and has a consistent, repeatable answer he can deliver. That's less stress on him, certainly. However, for the rest of us, including his players and his school, it only increases the pressure.

Again, I have no problem with Beilein looking to make a better deal for himself. However, he has had plenty of time to review offers made by schools and decide if they make sense for him at this stage in his career. If Beilein has no interest in North Carolina State, he should say so immediately. Every day that this process drags on creates more uncertainty around him and his program. I understand that it can be wearying to deny things over and over, but that's better than the angst and worry the policy of silence causes.

John Beilein's tenure at West Virginia to this point has been marked with nothing but success and goodwill, but he risks tearing at least a portion of that down by keeping the wall of silence built, even when no need exists to do so.

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