INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — It was less than four months ago that John Beilein addressed the Cleveland Cavaliers following his first victory as an NBA head coach.
On Wednesday, the 67-year-old former Michigan head coach gave the Cavs a very different speech.
After 54 games, in which Cleveland amassed the worst record in the Eastern Conference and second-worst record in the NBA at 14-50, Beilein resigned as the Cavs head coach. Beilein's abrupt departure brought a resolution to a messy tenure in Cleveland, in which his failure to connect with pro players following 40 seasons of coaching at the college level was routinely on display.
Yet despite his messy exit, Beilein still returned to Northeast Ohio to say farewell to his players in a pre-practice address.
"I've never had a coach who stepped down or was fired and came in and talked to us," Cavs forward Kevin Love said after practice. "But just seeing him being vulnerable and treating us with respect and empathy, I thought it was super powerful."
As for the reason behind the untimely departure, Love -- as Beilein did in a statement -- pointed to the toll that losing took on the former Big Ten Coach of the Year.
"It's really really hard to lose in this league," Love said. "I respect the hell out of him. Obviously I wish him the best."
Of course, Beilein's short-lived time in Cleveland wasn't that simple.
In addition to the team's steady losing, which was largely expected at this point in its rebuild, players clashed with Beilein both publically and privately. In December, Joe Vardon and Sham Charania of The Athletic reported that Cavs players were frustrated with Beilein’s coaching style and lack of understanding of the NBA game. One month later, the former Michigan head coach was the subject of another controversy, in which he apologized to his players after stating they had been playing like “thugs” in a film session.
Beilein maintained he intended to say his players were playing like “slugs.” Cavs players reportedly responded by purposely playing songs featuring the word "thug" in them around Beilein.
At different points in the season, both Love and fellow veteran Tristan Thompson showed frustration with Beilein's coaching while on the court. And although he didn't address any of those specific incidents, Love did admit that Cavs players could have done a better job in helping ease the transition from college to the pros for their now-former head coach.
"Us players, in some ways -- really, in a lot of ways -- we could have been a lot better," Love said. "Naturally we have a lot of young players on this team. As veterans, we're trying to figure out ways to help young fellas, as well as the coaching staff. When you look at things in their entirety and as an accumulation, that's when you start to see the story. It's really not just one man."
Following Beilein's departure, J.B. Bickerstaff will take over as the Cavs' head coach with just 28 games remaining in the 2019-20 campaign. And while that may not be enough time for Cleveland to salvage its season from a record standpoint, Love said that any progress the Cavs make the rest of this season will begin with him and his teammates taking accountability.
"We gotta do a little check on ourselves too," the 5-time All-Star said. "We gotta look at ourselves in the mirror too. I was talking about passing that mirror test. Definitely myself -- I've been a s--thead at some points this season. I let losing get the best of me and nobody likes to do that.... it's really just looking at ourselves and finding out how we can get better. And from there, trying to put it all together."