Michigan basketball is unequivocally a program on the rise. The comprehensive successes of 2012 -- a Big Ten title, a Big Ten freshman of the year award winner in point guard Trey Burke, a massive recruiting haul -- ensured as much. Which is perhaps why it seems so long ago that John Beilein's program was truly struggling.
But it was. The first three years of Beilein's Michigan tenure were fraught with inconsistent performance and little in the way of recruiting, and two years ago -- after a 15-17 2009-10 season that had some asking early questions about the coach's long-term viability of the coach -- three of Michigan's top assistants, essentially Beilein's entire staff, left the school to to pursue other opportunities. (One coach, Mike Jackson, did so at Big Ten and regional rival Purdue.)
Things weren't looking good: Not only did the Wolverines have a subpar season, but now their coach was charged with replacing a whole staff of assistants smack dab in the middle of the most important recruiting time on the calendar. Whether that state of affairs was self-imposed (i.e., Beilein cleaned house) or accidental (i.e., the coaches all took off), it was a significant challenge all the same.
Two years after finding those replacements, Beilein's staff remains intact. The program is in a major upswing. After the season concluded, the smitten coach took the relatively unusual step of signing all three of his assistant coaches -- Bacari Alexander, Jeff Meyer and LaVall Jordan -- to multi-year contracts to remain at Michigan in the years to come. This week, Beilein gushed about his staff to AnnArbor.com's Nick Baumgardner:
"We love this staff," Beilein said last week. "And whatever we can do to keep this group going in the right direction together, that's something I'm all for." [...] "A lot of times head coaches get long-term contracts, but it's very rare for assistants to have multi-year contracts. We've been talking about this, between (athletic director) Dave Brandon and myself. We've talked about it over the past year."
[...] "Anybody that has been around those three," Beilein says, "realizes that they have special qualities that are making (this program successful)."
The extended contracts may be slightly out of the ordinary, but they should pay obvious dividends. Alexander, Meyer and Jordan have been instrumental in raising the level of Michigan's recruiting under Beilein. Early in his tenure, the Wolverines were only occasionally landing impact top-50-level talent. In 2012, Michigan will welcome the No. 14-ranked class in the country -- including potential stars like Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary -- to campus. It's early yet, but our ESPN recruiting analysts rank Michigan's 2013 class as the second-best in the country to date; odds are the Wolverines will at least finish in the top 10 overall, if not the top five.
Recruits want stability from their head coaches, of course, but they also want to know that the assistants they spend the most time with on the trail will be there when the decision becomes real. Few things send that message more clearly than three- and four-year contracts for those assistants.
In that way, Beilein's move isn't just about rewarding the successes of the recent past. It's about ensuring they continue into the future. There's no reason to expect anything less from the Wolverines in the years to come. Upward and onward, as they say.