CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Reid Forgrave spent much of July on the road in cities across the country, covering the live recruiting periods. While there, and in the weeks since, they've surveyed coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at some of the smallest Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics in the sport. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be posting the results on several questions posed to more than 100 coaches.
College basketball recruiting has a reputation.
It's not good.
And, especially at the high-major level, there's a perception that just about everybody is bending, if not breaking, the rules in pursuit of top-100 prospects. Honestly, I don't know if it's as bad as some insist. But I'm not naive, either. And though we have used our #CandidCoaches series in the past to try to identify college basketball's perceived dirtiest coaches, we now understand that's unfair because it gives coaches the opportunity to trash rivals and/or men they do not like anonymously.
But what about totally "clean" coaches?
Do they exist? And, if they do, who are they?
To find out, we asked more than 100 college coaches the following question:
Who is the high-major coach you genuinely believe does everything by the book and operates completely within the NCAA's rulebook?
-- Every coach listed received at least 5 votes
Quotes that stood out
On Michigan's John Beilein ...
- "John Beilein is a by-the-book, letter-of-the-law guy. LETTER-OF-THE-LAW. ... You get two hours to work out guys for the week. If he works out a kid and, say, they go one hour and one minute, he's going to start the next time with 59 minutes on the clock and go 59 minutes. That's the truth."
- "Personally, we've gone up against him [in recruiting] ... and there's never been any issues. You go head-to-head with some of these guys, and you know what's going on. ... But nothing has popped up that's even been in the gray area [with Michigan]."
- "If you look over the course of his programs, they have a very unique way in how they recruit players. It's a very old-school approach. He has to see them. They only offer kids if they come to campus twice. Stuff like that. His background is such, and this is way vague, but guys that typically have cheated or do things the wrong way, they live their lives at a certain level of athletics for such a long period. But John Beilein worked his way up. He's never been an assistant -- only been a head coach his entire life. He's like, 'This is the only way do it, and I'm going to continue to do it.' [Guys like him] get to a point in their careers where they've been able to operate that way for so long, why risk their job and reputation?"
On Notre Dame's Mike Brey ...
- "Brey and his staff seem to target a certain type of kid. They're not usually surprising you with anything. They just target a certain type of kid, get him and win with him. You don't hear any funny-business. We've recruited against them. And we've lost players to them. But I've never thought it was because they cheated to get something done."
- "He really does do everything the right way. There's not even a hint or a sniff about improper doings, and you just, quite frankly, don't get that with a lot of people. With a lot of guys we talk about, 'You have to go 'Hmmm ... ' when something happens. And it's almost all the big names too. But not with Brey."
- "I could either go with Brey or Beilein ... but I'm going with Brey. I think he does it right. I'd actually be shocked if he didn't."
On Virginia's Tony Bennett ...
- "Class act. I think he's as straight as an arrow. If not, there's no hope for our game."
- "I've never heard anyone say anything about him doing it [the wrong way]. I know all of their assistants, and they all seem way above board. I think I'd be stunned if anybody involved with them was involved in anything illegal."
- "He does everything by the book. Literally I think he was created by God himself. He's a genuine great human being.".
I'm not surprised Beilein was the most common answer, if only because I've never heard another coach even whisper about him. In a business where back-stabbing is normal, and accusing somebody of cheating every time you miss on a recruit is a go-to move, Beilein's name has never been connected to anything shady, far as I can remember. Coaches just don't talk about him that way.
Simply put, he's universally respected.
Beilein has led the NCAA's ethics coalition, and his colleagues seem to believe there's nothing about that deserving of a roll of the eyes. They think he plays things straight by the book. And, I'm compelled to tell you, this is why I may have personally been as wrong about Beilein-to-Michigan back in 2007 as I've been about any hire made at the power-conference level in the past decade.
I did not love the hire at the time.
And the reason was simple: I didn't think a by-the-book coach was a good fit at Michigan -- a place that historically needs to recruit Detroit to be successful, a place that once enrolled and celebrated the Fab Five. I knew Beilein was great. I just didn't think he was a great fit at Michigan. And that's still debatable, I guess. But it doesn't matter. Because he's been terrific while leading the Wolverines to seven of the past nine NCAA Tournaments -- a run that includes three Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and an appearance in the 2013 national title game.
And Beilein hasn't damaged his reputation at all.
Which isn't necessarily the norm.
Sometimes coaches get new jobs and compromise their moral compasses; pressures make them do things they previously never imagined doing. But that doesn't seem to be the case with Beilein. Or, at least, his colleagues don't believe it to be the case. And that's just about the greatest compliment he could receive -- that he's flourished without changing and won big without cheating.
Coaches love to point fingers -- even at the giants of the sport.
But with Beilein, really, they just tip their hats.