Two Ex-WVU Coaches With Similar Paths
A basketball coach with a West Virginia small college background and a freelance offensive disciple who spent five years working at WVU before leaving to take a Big Ten school to the national championship game … of course you must be thinking of Michigan’s John Beilein, right?
Well, how about the late George King, whose path to Purdue in 1966 was very similar to the one Beilein took to Michigan in 2007 before leading the Wolverines to tomorrow night’s national championship game. And just like Beilein will be doing with All-American guard Trey Burke against Louisville, King’s big moment in the sun in the 1969 NCAA title game also involved an All-American guard. His name was Rick Mount.
King, like Beilein, had West Virginia Conference roots – King at Morris Harvey College in Charleston and Beilein at Wheeling College, now Wheeling Jesuit.
King, like Beilein, employed a motion system that emphasized passing and intelligence with King’s West Virginia offense being considered among the best in college basketball at the time. Some of King's former WVU players would tell me the brilliance of his offensive system was in its simplicity.
“Freelance is what he called it,” said All-American Rod Thorn. “It would be more like the passing game used today.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
I believe I heard the other day Jim Boeheim refering to Beilein as “one of the best offensive coaches in the country.” Well, George King had a similar reputation when he was coaching college basketball.
During his five-year WVVU tenure, Beilein was known as a teacher and a great molder of men. Beilein could lose his cool and blow his stack, but he usually did so with no one else around to avoid showing up his players or giving the impression that he was capable of losing his temper. According to those who played for George King in the early 1960s, the coach never showed up his players and if he did have a problem with someone he always handled it in a discreet fashion.
“If George raised his voice you knew he was really upset,” said Thorn.
King enjoyed considerable success at WVU by leading the Mountaineers to three 20-win seasons and trips to the NCAA tournament in 1962, 1963 and 1965 on the way to recording a 102-43 record.
Beilein’s five seasons at West Virginia saw his teams register three 20-win campaigns and trips to the NCAA tournament in 2005 and 2006 toward a 104-60 overall mark.
King’s WVU squads usually performed well at the level of competition it faced, typically beating the teams it was supposed to beat while producing the occasional upset or two, yet King’s WVU teams often struggled against the bigger, more physical playing styles it went up against. For those old enough to remember, William & Mary’s Jeff Cohen and Davidson’s Fred Hetzel were especially tough for the Mountaineers to handle.
Beilein, although generating more upset victories than King during his time at West Virginia, also had great difficulty handling the bigger, more physical teams. Beilein couldn’t beat Boeheim during his WVU days, and he also had some very rough nights against archrival Pitt.
Beilein set up his successor with a good nucleus of players, including All-American guard Da’Sean Butler, a key player for West Virginia during its run to the Final Four in 2010. King also left his successor with an outstanding nucleus of players from one of best freshman teams in the country in 1965 that included All-American guard Ron “Fritz” Williams.
Both worked around two of the game’s great coaches – King succeeding Fred Schaus and Beilein preceding Bob Huggins.
And both left WVU under somewhat contentious circumstances – Beilein contesting a buyout clause in his contract before leaving for Michigan and King departing for Purdue following a feud with local sports reporter Tony Constantine.
“I think there was some relief on (King’s) part to leave West Virginia because he knew no matter what he did he couldn’t fill the large shoes that Fred Schaus left,” recalled the late Eddie Barrett, West Virginia’s sports information director at the time.
Barrett once told me the circumstances surrounding King’s rapid departure to Purdue to replace Ray Eddy immediately following the 1965 season.
“When George King got the Purdue job he said to me, ‘Sit down, you won’t believe this,’” said Barrett. “I got the Purdue job and I’m not going to make some of the same mistakes I made here.’”
King, like Beilein has done today with Michigan, got the Boilermakers progressively better until winning the Big Ten title and reaching the NCAA finals in 1969 – the school’s first-ever trip to the NCAAs.
The Boilermakers that year defeated Miami (Ohio), Marquette and North Carolina to get to the big game (back then there were only 25 teams in the tournament). However, Purdue ran into a buzz saw against one of John Wooden’s great UCLA teams with Lew Alcindor, the Boilermakers falling 92-72 to the Bruins in Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky.
Therefore, it’s only fitting that on Monday night, another former Mountaineer hoop coach will be in the Deep South in Atlanta facing a favored Louisville team led by another coaching great in Rick Pitino for the national championship. There is one big difference, though ... Pitino doesn’t have a Lew Alcindor.
So perhaps Beilein can do on Monday night what King was unable to accomplish in 1969: lead his team to a national title.
Many of us who bleed Gold and Blue will be watching Beilein’s Maize and Blue to see if he can pull it off.
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