January 12, 2013

Borton's Blog: One who knows

Dan Dakich has a deeper respect for John Beilein and his coaching ability than most. He knows the sort of building Beilein can accomplish, and sees it paying off in a big way now.

The ESPN college basketball analyst was supposed to be West Virginia's head coach in 2002. He'd even accepted the job. But after getting a good look around, he said no thanks, walking away from what he noted was a seven-year contract worth $3.5 million to go back to coaching at Bowling Green, for $125,000 a year.

Dakich is as good at recalling the situation as he is at calling college basketball games.

"What John did at West Virginia, and I was there before him - in fact he owes me money, because I saved his damned career by leaving - was one of the most remarkable jobs," Dakich noted, tossing in a zinger he's no doubt passed on to Beilein. "I'm telling you … in fact, it was the most remarkable job I've ever seen in college basketball. Three years, final eight, where that thing was a complete and utter train wreck."

It didn't hurt to have Kevin Pittsnogle in the fold, Dakich pointed out. And the budding star was coming to West Virginia no matter who was the coach.

The real artistry involved what happened to the roster around Pittsnogle, Dakich insisted.

"He fit these pieces around what he had always done," Dakich said. "It's no surprise what he's doing at Michigan. It's no surprise that he's doing it in a way that people who are Michigan fans are absolutely proud of how the thing is going."

It doesn't hurt, Dakich acknowledged, that Crisler Center now stands as a gem among the nation's basketball facilities. The former Indiana player and coach doesn't mince words regarding what Crisler used to be, and how important it is that the old structure changed dramatically.

"That's big," Dakich said. "That is so big. You never want to be swimming upstream in recruiting. That underdog story lasts for a year or two. You want to have the biggest, you want to have the best, you want to have the brightest.

"It's Michigan, for crying out loud. That's what I always said about Indiana. I said, 'Dang, you guys don't want to have a practice facility because Coach [Bob] Knight won in the '70s? Well, this ain't the '70s.

"It's an arms race. What Michigan has done with Crisler, it's spectacular. The gym, I always kind of thought of as a dumpy place, truthfully, nothing great.

"I'm not going to lie to you. We used it in recruiting. If there was ever an example of a sport playing second fiddle to football, just look at the difference between The Big House and Crisler Arena, sitting right next to each other."

"Back in the day, you'd go to Indiana and look at Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall. Assembly Hall was the more impressive."

Now, Dakich noted, nothing stands in Beilein's path to high-level success for years to come.

"Hard-working staff, a coach with a great reputation for winning as a head coach, with a national reputation, a system that kids like to play in, guys that will work like crazy, and a terrific facility," he summed up. "There it is. That's what Michigan has, and that's the reason you see the success Michigan is having right now."

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