ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Michigan coach John Beilein has had a successful career and family life, raising four children with his wife of 30-plus years and winning 700 games.
Beilein does, though, wish he went into the military as many members of his relatives did - and do - including extended family members who helped to inspire the Oscar-winning Steven Spielberg film “Saving Private Ryan.”
“That’s one of my regrets,” Beilein said in a telephone interview. “It wasn’t cool in 1971 to go into the service.”
Beilein tries to make up for his regret by teaching his players to respect the sacrifices made by men and women across the globe.
Before the second-seeded Wolverines face 11th-seeded Tennessee on Friday night in Indianapolis, they will be expected to stand at attention during the national anthem because Beilein makes them they work on it.
“He had some men from the armed forces come early to practice last year and teach us,” Utah Jazz rookie Trey Burke recalled earlier this week. “From then on, he expected us to stand tall and have our hand on our heart to show respect.
“He always taught us that it’s the little things that matter.”
That’s one of the many reasons Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is glad Beilein is leading the proud-again program.
“He’s way more than a basketball coach,” Brandon said. “He sees himself as a teacher and a coach and part of his job is to prepare his players for life.”
One of the ways Beilein tries to accomplish that is by inviting military personnel to speak to his team.
Navy pilot Natesh Rao met Beilein in 2010 when he took his team to Europe, and they’ve kept in touch with occassional emails.
“He always writes back, which is one of the ways you know he’s genuinely apprecative,” Rao said. “It’s not just lip service.”
And when Rao went to a Michigan practice last year, Beilein put him to work, asking him to teach his players how to stand at attention so that they would be ready to do it before each game.
“Before every season, we talk about how we’re going to conduct ourselves during the national anthem,” Beilein said. “To me, that’s not a little thing. That’s a big thing.
“I always remind the guys that when the national anthem is playing, just remember there’s people freezing their tail off on a hill in Afghanistan while you’re getting ready to play a game.”
After choosing to play basketball in college instead of serving his country, the native of Burt, N.Y., graduated from Wheeling Jesuit in 1975.
Beilein’s first coaching job was at Erie (N.Y.) Community College in 1978 and he went on to lead Nazareth, LeMoyne, Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia without ever serving as an assistant coach.
Michigan fired Tommy Amaker and hired Beilein in 2007 and he has stayed in one place longer than any stop since being at LeMoyne College from 1983 to 1992.
“I just thought of that,” Beilein said. “We really like it here, but I don’t think I’m ever comfortable because we’re always searching for ways to be better coaches and mentors.”
Beilein might have done his best job of leading any team this season.
After losing Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA as underclassmen, standout forward Mitch McGary needed back surgery in December that likely ended his season.
The Wolverines won the Big Ten title outright - by three games - for the first time since 1986, two years after sharing the conference championship. He helped them earn a spot in the NCAA tournament in 2009 for the first time since 1998.
Michigan has won two NCAA tournament games this year, advancing to the round of 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time in two decades, to make Beilein the sixth active coach with at least 700 victories.
After reaching the Final Four for the first time in his career, Beilein is motivated to get back to college basketball’s showcase.
“People have told me you get hungrier if you’ve been there, and I would agree with that,” he said. “We’re not resting on anything, but we’re very focused on Tennessee. They’re an experienced version of Texas and I’m not sure we’ve seen anyone quite like them in our league.”
Freelance writer Matthew Coles in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.
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