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July 18, 2013
Maize 'N View: John Beilein is Michigan's best coach
How strong is Michigan's coaching empire these days? So strong that Brady Hoke may not rank among the five best coaches in Ann Arbor and so good that Red Berenson almost got squeezed out of the top 10. So who's the best? At the moment, it's John Beilein.
Here are the 10 best coaches right now entering 2013-14. This isn't a career award but the coaches that are at the top of their games today when it comes to recruiting, developing that talent and taking their programs to the pinnacle of their sport.
1. John Beilein - Basketball: In 2013, Beilein directed Michigan to its first NCAA finals appearance since 1993, falling just seven points shy of the program's second ever national title. He helped produce two first-round NBA Draft picks, U-M's first two since Jamal Crawford went in the first round in 2000.
Going toe-to-toe with the best coaches in the Big Ten, Beilein has turned Ann Arbor into a destination, signing a pair of five-stars and four more four-stars during the past two recruiting classes, and with the influx of talent this year, he has the Maize and Blue poised to compete for the conference title and another Sweet 16 (or better) in 2014.
2. Mike Bottom - Swimming & Diving: According to collegeswimming.com, there are 141 Division I men's swimming and diving programs in the country so it's no small feat to spank the field at the NCAA Championships, beating runner-up Cal by 73.5 points.
In capturing the program's first national title since 1995, U-M ended a 17-year run by schools in the south and west (warm-weather states said to have recruiting advantages), and they owe it to Bottom, who has transformed the program from one reliant on two or three great swimmers to one that is all about the team, the team, the team.
In Big Ten competition, Michigan destroyed its foes, and with a majority of the team returning for 2013-14, and another heralded freshman class set to arrive, the Wolverines have a terrific chance to repeat as the NCAA champ, a feat no Big Ten team has done since Indiana won six in a row from 1968-73.
3. Carol Hutchins - Softball: If this was a lifetime achievement award, Hutchins and Berenson could certainly claim they deserve to be at the top (and they'd get no argument from me), but that Hutch (her nickname) drops to third is a testament to Beilein and Bottom because in 2013 she was impressive, leading the Wolverines to a 20-2 record in league play (and a Big Ten title), NCAA regional and Super Regional championships, and a spot in the Women's College World Series for the top eight teams in the country.
She did so by nurturing two sophomore pitchers while relying on a pair of freshmen in the starting lineup. Fire-ballers Haylie Wagner and Sara Driesenga return, as does most of the team - U-M loses two seniors from the starting nine - and with its WCWS experience, Michigan should take a run at its first NCAA title since 2005.
4. Mark Rosen - Volleyball: In 13 previous seasons, Rosen and his wife, assistant coach Leisa, had been building Michigan from the ground up, pushing the program one step further, then another step, and then another step. In 2012, the Maize and Blue hit their zenith under Rosen's direction, tying a program record with 27 wins while advancing to the program's first-ever Final Four. In the semifinals, the Wolverines came within one game of advancing, losing 3-2 to eventual champ Texas.
Year by year, Rosen has added greater physical talent to his roster, signing the nation's top setter (Lexi Zimmerman) in 2007 while her heir, rising junior Lexi Dannemiller, is widely considered one of the nation's three or four best setters now. This fall, Michigan will introduce the nation's third-ranked player - 6-5 middle blocker Abby Cole - and with all but one contributer returning, U-M should be a Big Ten favorite and a national champion contender.
5. Kurt Golder - Men's Gymnastics: We're probably doing Golder a disservice by having him this low. After all, who has the resume this man does - winning three national titles at Michigan, including championships in both 2010 and this past spring. Critics will argue the field in men's gymnastics only numbers 19 so the competition is not as plentiful, but as one source noted, when your top eight is as consistently strong as say the football equivalent of Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, Ohio State, etc. every year, beating them is no small achievement.
And let's give Golder credit for developing the best gymnast, hands down, in the country in junior Sam Mikulak, who was the NCAA All-Around champ in 2011 and 2013 and the runner-up in 2012. This is a program that has been a national title challenger for the past five years and looks to remain that for the foreseeable future.
6. Brady Hoke - Football: A year from now, two years especially, Hoke should be challenging for top honors, but to rank among the best you have to win, and Hoke would be the first to admit the Maize and Blue have not won at the level he demands, failing his first two years to capture a Big Ten title.
Certainly his rebuilding project was significant, and he's quickly remade the Wolverines in his image - focusing on defense and toughness. We could see his captaincy culminate with a championship this fall.
Hoke has been dynamic on the recruiting trail, and Michigan is in line to sign another top-10 class. On the field, U-M fell back down to earth, going 8-5, after an 11-2 2011 campaign. He's a stud, but Michigan has to fare better than 1-4 in its five biggest games (Notre Dame, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and bowl game) for him to move up this list.
7. Mike McGuire - Women's Cross Country: McGuire is the head coach of the cross country team and the distance coach of the track and field team, and his runners sure had a big year over the three varsity seasons.
It started with a Big Ten title in the fall as U-M crushed the cross country field, continued with a regional title and then a fifth-place finish at NCAAs. In the winter, the distance medley relay team outran its competition, earning the Wolverines a national title (their first in the event since 2005) with a record-setting time of 10:46.56. Finally, in the spring, he coached the only All-American for the outdoor season (senior Amanda Eccleston, 1,500-meter run).
McGuire consistently attracts top talent to Ann Arbor, then develops his athletes into standouts, and he does so with some of the worst facilities of any varsity team on campus (a project AD David Brandon is eager to remedy).
8. Ronni Bernstein - Women's Tennis: When Amanda Augustus left Michigan after just one season, there was real concern U-M had just lost the next great women's tennis coach. But Bernstein has proven herself equally proficient, going 58-4 in her Big Ten career over the past six seasons. She has built Michigan into a powerhouse, winning four consecutive conference titles while leading the Maize and Blue to four straight Sweet 16 appearances (the first in program history).
In 2012-13, U-M went 23-6, boasting a .793 winning percentage, including a 10-1 Big Ten mark. The Wolverines lose a senior, but welcome the nation's No. 38 recruit, which should come as no surprise - five of Michigan's six returnees were ranked among tennisrecruiting.net's top 40 players (including a pair of top 10s).
9. Red Berenson - Ice Hockey: Berenson falls down this list because his 2012-13 campaign ranked among his worst at Michigan, with the Wolverines going 18-19-3 and failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990. But there's no way he's not one of the top 10 coaches at Michigan, and if not for his peers achieving at incredibly high standards this past year, he'd be much higher.
After a difficult year, Berenson did push the right buttons in the playoffs, as U-M swept two foes in best-of-three series weekends and then upset Miami (Ohio) in the CCHA semifinals.
On the recruiting trail, Michigan signed one of its best classes in years, and the freshmen, combined with a veteran core that Berenson really, really likes, is ready to put the program back on track - a Big Ten title, an NCAA berth and a potential Frozen Four run are all likely.
10. Greg Ryan - Women's Soccer: This final spot was tough because there are certainly other deserving candidates like gymnastics' Bev Plocki, tennis' Bruce Berque and basketball's Kim Barnes-Arico, but Ryan has his program trending up, on the brink of what the volleyball team did in 2012-13 - qualify for the Final Four.
Consider that in 2012, Michigan had 16 victories for the first time since 2002, including seven Big Ten wins also for the first time since 2002. The Wolverines advanced to the Sweet 16 for only the second time in the program's 19-year history by winning a pair of games, and came within penalty kicks of knocking off No. 5 Penn State for a spot in the Elite Eight.
Michigan graduated the top goalie in its existence but brings in one of the nation's elite netminders to replace her while the rest of starting 10 is in place for the Maize and Blue to win their first Big Ten title since 1999.
To weigh in with your pick, vote here.