By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In a day filled with the sorrow of former West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart’s sudden and unexpected death, there was a ray of sunshine that managed to slip through, a happening that shows us all that even in death there is life and as one son grieves, as does Stewart’s son, Blaine, somewhere else a father basks in pride over his son.
So it was in the John Beilein family, which certainly had something to celebrate as son Patrick took his first steps toward following in his father’s footsteps as a coach.
Just hours before Stewart died on a golf course while playing with his one-time athletic director, Ed Pastilong, it was announced that the younger Beilein had landed his first head coaching job at West Virginia Wesleyan.
You can only imagine the pride Patrick Beilein had in the appointment, the joy and excitement as he began his journey down a career path that his father, John, the former WVU head coach now at Michigan, had blazed.
As great, though, as that pride is, it cannot match the pride a father takes in his son, for that bond is stronger than anything you will ever experience.
You could hear it in John Beilein’s voice as spoke over the phone late Monday afternoon from Michigan about his son and about how it will be the first time he gets to see him coach a game.
“I have pregame nervousness when I am going to coach, but once the game starts you work at your trade, at your craft. You just do it,” Beilein explained. ”But when he’s coaching I’m sure I may not be as composed with my emotions as when I am on the sideline. Any time your own children are competing in any way, your emotions come out much more than if just you are involved.”
A coach on the sideline, you see, has control over his own fate. This is true even if the situation is as it was at West Virginia, when Patrick Beilein was one of the most popular players on one of the most popular teams ever at the school.
That, of course, would have been the John Beilein-coached Mountaineers that included Patrick Beilein’s buddy Mike Gansey, Alex Ruoff, Kevin Pittsnogle, Frank Young, J.D. Collins, Joe Herbert, Darris Nichols and a freshman named Joe Alexander.
But it is different when you are watching him play and you are not there to pull him from the game when he makes a bad play, praise him when he makes a good play, encourage him and instruct him. You can only sit there and know that he really must learn on his own, which means there will be hard times that will test his fiber.
John Beilein realizes his son is following a path quite similar to his own.
“I had just turned 30 when I started at a Division II school,” John Beilein said, thinking back to his days at Lemoyne after three years as a high school coach, then four at a junior college and another at Nazareth, a small upstate New York school. “He has just turned 29.”
As a father, he has done what he could to help mold him. He had him as a college player before he went off to play in Europe for a spell, then as a graduate assistant at Michigan while also going to Dartmouth as an assistant and Bradley as director of basketball operations.
“He’s been working hard to put himself in this position ever since he graduated, probably even when he was playing at West Virginia,” John Beilein said.
And now the ball is in his court, so to speak.
John Beilein believes he’s ready to make a name for himself as a coach.
“What he really has is a great feel for the game,” John Beilein explained.
“A feel for the game” is something that is difficult to put into words. It’s a state of mind, a state of existence, really, the successful coaches have and the ones who can’t make it don’t have.
“When we talked basketball he sees it both from a player’s perspective and a technical aspect. That’s a unique blend to have,” John Beilein said. “When he played, he saw the game in slow motion sometimes.”
It will be a challenge to succeed, yes, for there will be comparisons to his father, a man who has had success wherever he has gone. Patrick Beilein can’t try to be another John Beilein. Instead, he must be the first Patrick Beilein.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.