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Thunder: Billy Donovan encouraged John Beilein to make college to NBA leap

Before John Beilein left Michigan to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers, Beilein called Billy Donovan — a rare coach who successfully made the college to NBA jump. 

"I talked to Billy the year before at length," Beilein said. "For like an hour on the phone. He encouraged me that he really liked (the NBA). He liked the pace of it. He really liked the coaching. He also said, ‘It’s a long season. You gotta be able to stay in there and hang through the tough times and just keep coaching.’ He encouraged me to do it." 

Beilein shared that story before a Thunder-Cavaliers game in Oklahoma City two weeks ago. 

On Tuesday night, ESPN reported that Beilein is leaving the Cavaliers just four months into his tumultuous first season. 

Beilein signed a five-year contract with the Cavaliers in May after compiling a 278-150 record at Michigan that included two trips to the Final Four. One of those came at Donovan's expense while Donovan was at Florida. The Wolverines gashed the Gators 79-59 in the 2013 Elite Eight. 

But that Michigan-Florida game was far from Beilein's first battle with Donovan. 

"I faced him when he was at Marshall and I was at Canisius," Beilein said, bringing up a mid-1990s game. “How ‘bout that? It did not go well.” 

The same was true about Beilein's 14-40 record with the Cavaliers. Beilein, according to multiple reports, failed to connect with NBA players with his old-school college ways. 

Beilein became just the third first-year coach in the last 30 years to not complete a full season. Jerry Tarkanian, another college coach, did not last a full season with the Spurs in 1992-93. 

Donovan is a positive outlier on the list of coaches who made the college to NBA leap without any NBA coaching experience. Boston's Brad Stevens is another. 

Donovan is in his fifth season with the Thunder. Stevens is in his seventh season with the Celtics. Among active NBA coaches, Donovan has the fourth-best winning percentage and Stevens sits 10th. 

With Beilein gone, Donovan and Stevens are the only active NBA coaches who were hired directly from a college job — Donovan from Florida and Stevens from Butler. 

There are only eight NBA coaches who have ever been a college head coach. 

Jim Boylen, Chicago: Utah (2007-11) 

Steve Clifford, Orlando: Division-II Adelphi University (1995-99) 

Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City: Marshall (1994-96) and Florida (1996-2015) 

Mike Miller, New York: Texas State (1994-2000) and Eastern Illinois (2005-12)

Nick Nurse, Toronto: NAIA Grand View University (1991-93) 

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio: Division-III Pomona-Pitzer (1979-86, 87-88) 

Quin Snyder, Utah: Missouri (1999-06) 

Brad Stevens, Boston: Butler (2007-13) 

Related Photos
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein reacts to a call against the Chicago Bulls in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 118-106. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein reacts to a call against the Chicago Bulls in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 118-106. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-084958c0cfedec02b80f3da88a09462b.jpg" alt="Photo - Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein reacts to a call against the Chicago Bulls in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 118-106. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)" title="Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein reacts to a call against the Chicago Bulls in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 118-106. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)"><figcaption>Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein reacts to a call against the Chicago Bulls in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Cleveland. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers 118-106. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)</figcaption></figure>
Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

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