Dear John

No, it's not that kind of "Dear John" letter – in fact, it's just the opposite. Valentine's Day has come and gone; nevertheless, the time seems right for a Valentine of sorts to you, our beloved and respected head basketball coach.

Usually, I am very careful to keep my identity as WVU staff person and adjunct faculty member completely separate from my identity as a writer for the Blue & Gold News, but I'm going to cross that line today. There are times when lines need to be crossed, and I think this is one of them.

This sort of letter/column usually waits until the season is well and truly over and we can reflect on the entirety of a won-loss record and review the highlights and regrets of a full term. But there has been a lot of conversation about you on the West Virginia University campus over the past couple of weeks and it seems only fair that you, the subject of such animated discussion, know what's being said. Trust me: it's all good.

I was in a meeting Friday afternoon with a selection of staff persons with titles like "director" and "assistant vice president" and "special assistant to [somebody important]," people with significant responsibilities on the academic side of WVU but who, for the most part, are not in the classroom. We were charged with identifying some of the most important things that are going right at WVU just now, and advising a senior member of the University administration on a strategy for continuing and increasing our successes and sharing them with the public. You might be surprised to find that topic A was you, John Beilein.

It seemed that the consensus, at least among those with whom I worked in the meeting, was that the most important thing WVU can do to continue our recent successes into the immediate future is to keep you on board as our head basketball coach. And they meant successes in terms of academic achievement and public perception thereof, not just successes on the basketb all court. On the sheet of paper the folks at my table my table submitted as our "to do" list for WVU, we led with "Do whatever it takes to keep John Beilein."

Folks who have spent a decade or two or more at WVU light up when they talk about you. Everyone has a story to share, the punch line of which is how much he or she admires, respects, and likes you. A senior associate dean beams as he relates the story of the first commencement ceremonies after your arrival, when you showed up in academic regalia to march with the faculty. We should have known then that your most meaningful self-identification is as teacher; five years later, we understand that now. You should know you're always welcome to march with the faculty at graduation. They liked having you there and they appreciate, more than you may realize, that you put your money where your mouth is regarding the importance of academics.

Faculty and staff members chatted in the halls of Woodburn and elsewhere when you brought the team home from Rutgers to go to classes for a day before returning to New Jersey to play Seton Hall a couple of days later. "I'll bet John Beilein is the only college coach in America who would do that," was repeated over and over again. "How did we get so lucky to get him here?"

Of course, the piéce de resistance in the "I love John Beilein" litany has to do with the way you have influenced student fan behavior. Thank you for using the considerable weight of your position and the extraordinary good will you have developed in such a good cause, that of getting students to treat our opponents as we want our own players to be treated. We watched in awe, looking for a way to translate your methodology to our classrooms, as you bought breakfast for a hundred or so students, then, in the most gracious way possible, challenged them to show the world – or at least the CBS viewing audience – that they are the equals of any college students in the country, both in and out of the classroom. You did it last year, too, when you grabbed the announcer's microphone before dashing into the locker room at halftime and asked the Maniacs not to use such ugly language. Of course, they're going to taunt opposing players. Of course, they're going to boo and chant and be spontaneous sports fans. That's their job. But you reminded them that they can be witty and smart and clever, that mean-spiritedness and bigotry are never right, even when we're playing Pitt, especially coming from this State and this campus, where we already suffer the effects of the cultural prejudices of a misinformed nation. We are better than the rest of the country thinks we are, and we have a golden televised opportunity to prove it.

You call on the angels of our better natures. You ask us to build a shining city on a hill. You demand the best of yourself and your team, and you inspire us to give you the best of ourselves, too. "He is making this University a better place," one colleague earnestly told me. "His influence is going well beyond the walls of the Coliseum," said another. "It's permeating the whole atmosphere around here." A third remarked, "He brings in good kids to play here, and he makes sure they graduate. He makes sure they never embarrass us with off the court nonsense."

Before I descend into the maudlin or the gooey, I should probably sign off. But in the meantime, I want you to know that in five short years, you have earned our admiration, our trust, our support. Speaking on behalf of everybody I know at WVU, in every capacity, we want you to be our head basketball coach for the rest of your life, or at least the rest of your coaching career. Thank you for the example of integrity, character, kindness, and grace that you have brought to WVU. It's a privilege to have you prowl our sideline.


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