INDEPENDENCE — New coach John Beilein pointed to the wall filled with banners celebrating the Cavaliers’ division and conference championships and refused to call his challenge a rebuild.

Instead Beilein deemed it a “renaissance” as he takes over the seemingly daunting task of turning last season’s 19-win team into a playoff contender.

He’s faced similar obstacles during a 41-year college career that included stops at Division II Le Moyne, Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan, leading all five to the NCAA Tournament. He’s proved to be a master at reviving programs. But none where the pressure is so high, never when joining a franchise that has kept its past three coaches no more than 2½ seasons.

“Rebuild is not a word we’re going to use here,” Beilein said. “I saw it more as a renaissance, let’s just change and let’s see what we can do through different trial and error. Every single time that we’ve decided to do this, some people would say with every job, and probably with this one, ‘What, are you crazy? Why are you doing that?’

“And I say opportunity and challenges go hand in hand. It’s so gratifying to turn a program. Look at all those banners up there. It’s been done before. Why can’t it be done again? There’s no question about it, and in time we’ll get it done.”

For those seated at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Tuesday for Beilein’s introduction, that journey didn’t seem quite as far as it did a month ago. Beilein’s energy permeated the state-of-the-art gymnasium.

Attending were his wife of 40 years, Kathleen, his sister and her husband, his in-laws, his four children and their spouses (one with his fiancée) and his four grandchildren. Beilein pointed out that grandson Johnny’s favorite team is the Golden State Warriors, although the Cavs recently vaulted from No. 20 to No. 2 on his list. Cavs Assistant General Manager Mike Gansey, who played two years for Beilein at West Virginia, was seated in the front row of their section with his wife and children.

Cavs point guard Collin Sexton flew in from the Philippines, arriving at 6 a.m., to be there. Revere High School product Larry Nance Jr. arrived at the compound before Beilein, who, undaunted by his shirt and tie, rebounded for Nance for about 10 minutes. Beilein said he will give Sexton things to work on over the summer.

The Cavs showed a clip from owner Dan Gilbert’s and General Manager Koby Altman’s meeting with Beilein in his Ann Arbor, Michigan, kitchen, with Beilein saying that Gansey was a “little sleepy sometimes” and quipping that he played a 1-3-1 defense at West Virginia because of Gansey’s lack of defensive skills.

It all made for an unusual debut for a Cavaliers coach.

Beilein, 66, has never been fired and did not seem concerned about Gilbert’s history, which includes hiring and firing Mike Brown twice, dumping coach David Blatt with a 30-11 record in the 2015-16 title season and letting go championship coach Tyronn Lue after an 0-6 start in 2019-20.

“Where’s Dan? Can Dan answer this question?” Beilein joked. “Never looked at it one single time, not in any way. I met Koby several years ago, but Dan … I realize coaches, we don’t complain on paydays. That’s part of this job. You have to get it done and that’s part of it. I’ve been able to stay away from that and that’s the only plan here. We’re going to get this right and I’m going to coach as long as I can coach, and I hope that’s a long time.”

A native of Burt, New York, north of Buffalo, Beilein seemed ready to embrace his new city, noting that he has only been to downtown Cleveland three times. He saw his first professional baseball game in the 1960s, when the Indians and Rocky Colavito took on Al Kaline and the Detroit Tigers. Beilein said it was the first time he’d stayed in a hotel, and it also had a pool.

On March 19, 2005, he coached Gansey and his son Patrick in the greatest NCAA Tournament game ever played in Cleveland as West Virginia defeated Wake Forest 111-105 in double overtime in the second round.

Beilein was also downtown for “The Decision” on July 8, 2010, when LeBron James announced he was leaving the Cavs for the Miami Heat. Beilein said he was attending the LeBron James Skills Academy and watched the televised announcement in a bar.

“I thought the streets would go on fire for a second there,” Beilein said.

Any fires Beilein hopes to set now will be within his players or inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse as he adapts to a different game. Many college coaches have struggled in their jumps to the NBA.

Beilein will draw on what he was told by former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, Beilein’s last recruit at Nazareth College in 1983, and NBA icon Jerry West, now a consultant for the Los Angeles Clippers with whom he became close to at West Virginia.

“Both of them said, ‘You certainly have to tweak, but be who you are. There’s a reason you have got to this level, why you were selected,’ ” Beilein said. “Jerry told me a long time ago, ‘The problem some college coaches have is they feel they have to change.’ We’ll certainly change, that’s why I’m still coaching after 40 years. I’ve changed from Newfane [High School] to junior college to all the divisions and continue to change and evolve.”

As Beilein tries to launch the Cavs’ renaissance, he remembered the words of his 80-year-old sister, who lives in Novelty, Ohio, on Cleveland’s east side.

“She said to me, ’You’re just getting started, man,’ ” Beilein said.

  

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.