The recent inductees into DeSales Catholic School’s Distinguished Alumni gathered Thursday and there was a joke that John Beilein was distinct not because of his accomplishments, but because he wasn’t from Lockport’s north end.
Beilein quickly pointed out that his grandfather grew up on the bottom of Rattlesnake Hill, which at least makes him an honorary north ender if anything.
“That’s got to put me in there somewhere,” he said.
Beilein, the Michigan coach who will always remember his roots, officially added another in a growing list of honors when he was inducted into the DeSales Hall of Fame along with Paul Cole, Rev. Joseph C. Dumphrey, H. Margaret Stephanski-Argentine and Rev. David M. Whalen.
It has been quite a ride for Beilein, a native of Burt who graduated in the Class of 1971, whose wife Kathleen is also a graduate of DeSales.
“It’s incredible to know that you’re having such a journey that Kathleen and I have taken for so long to have this opportunity to come back to where I think a lot of it started, both in the classroom and athletic field at DeSales,” Beilein said.
He had no experience with private school education prior to enrolling at DeSales at 16 and became a believer in the system after attending his first pep rally. The bonding and the school spirit was something he wanted for the rest of his life.
“It was different than anything I had seen,” he said. “No one was too cool for school, everyone was into it and the first football game I knew that something was different. As I got to meet each friend, and it came along very slowly, they’ve been friends for a lifetime now.”
He hung on every word of baseball coach Les Dugan and basketball coach Bill Zeits.
“All the people who coached me at DeSales,” Beilein said, “made me want to be like them.”
He merely wanted to be a social studies teacher and basketball coach when he attended college at Wheeling Jesuit and had the same objective in mind when he took the coaching job at Newfane.
“My first game I lost to DeSales, by the way,” he said.
Beilein’s goals began to change when he coached at Erie Community College and eventually Canisius College.
“I’ve had a few full circles,” he said. “This is another one.”
Beilein hasn’t had much time to breathe since Michigan’s runner-up finish to Louisville in the national championship game last April. Success means people want more of your time, like going to Russia to be an assistant coach for last summer’s World University Games.
“It’s been a short offseason, we’re ready to go again, and it had a lot to do with last year,” he said. “It went so long until April 8 and since then we’ve been busy with a lot of things.”
Some things haven’t changed. Michigan was in a funk since the end of the Fab Five era before Beilein took over and now lengthy NCAA Tournament runs are expected.
There are promises to keep and work to be done.
“We’ve always worked hard, we’ve always been grinders, just do what we had to do to make our program a great program,” he said. “It seems to have flown by quicker this summer. You start Nov. 8 and you’re done April 8. That’s an NFL season, that’s a six-month season. That’s a long year.”
But one he’d love to relive again.
“I never thought in my life I’d be sitting in the Final Four championship game,” Beilein said. “But I thought if I hadn’t dreamed of that, would I have ever gotten there?”