"It might sound like a line , but I feel like I am the luckiest coach in America," Maker told BlueGoldNews.com in an exclusive interview. "I'm excited to get to Morgantown as soon as possible and about the opportunity to coach with John Beilein. I believe he's the best coach in the country."
Maker has known Beilein for eight years, ever since he and another young assistant, Jeff Neubauer, were finalists for a spot on Beilien's staff at Richmond. Ever since, Maker has kept the thought that he would one day have another chance to coach with Beilein, and he is overjoyed to finally get that spot.
"I lost that job to Jeff for good reason," said Maker, who admittedly does not like to toot his own horn. I know Jeff gave great service to WVU and Richmond. But I was heartbroken when I didn't get that job, because I knew what kind of a coach he was, even before he went to the Elite Eight. It's the whole package that is Coach Beilein that gets me so enthusiastic. I would say it even if he didn't hire me. I have wanted to work with Coach Beilein ever since I met him. I still think I won the lottery. I had to call Coach Beilein back to make sure. I am just a John Beilein fan."
Maker was actually exposed to Beilein and his system prior to that, when Beilein was coaching at Canisius. That first contact, even though it wasn't on a personal level, led to admiration in Maker's eyes.
"My first knowledge of coach Beilein was watching his Canisius team play Fairfield," Maker related. "I'm watching this Canisius team run this beautiful offense and I fell in love with it."
If all that sounds like Maker is just buttering up the coach that suddenly boosted him to the top ranks of Division 1, think again. After he fell short of getting the spot at Richmond, Maker stayed in touch with Beilein, often crossing paths with him on the recruiting trail.
"My relationship with him actually improved after I didn't get that job," Maker said. "He doesn't burn his bridges. If you know him, you know how he formulates relationships. I'd see him at an AAU tournament or something, and we'd end up drawing some Xs and Os and talking."
Those continued ties obviously worked both ways, as Beilein has tapped Maker to fill the shoes of Neubauer, who departed for the head coaching job at Eastern Kentucky. Maker, who also stayed in touch with Neubauer over the years, will likely improve that connection as he learns the ropes at WVU.
"I will lean on him as I make the transition," Maker explained of how he plans to approach the learning process that is the first step for any new coach in any sport. "I want him to tell me about the role he filled. I think the most important thing is to have a good relationship with the players. I need to learn their backgrounds and know their families. In addition to having a good relationship with the coaches, the most important thing is to establish trust with the players, and I need to learn about them from Jeff. He was a major influence on their lives, so I need to do the homework with him and learn about them. After that, I'll probably talke to him some about the system, and he'll be an invaluable resource for me."
Neubauer isn't the only Mountaineer coach (past or present) that Maker is familiar with. A couple of seasons after he left Dartmouth, Terry Dunn, twin brother of Mountaineer assistant Jerry Dunn, got the head coaching spot for the Big Green.
"I just saw [Tery] in Houston at the Kingwood Classic, and talked with him some. I loved my time there at Dartmouth. And I have spoken with Jerry a number of times on the phone. We have a lot of mutual friends in coaching, and they all speak highly of his character and the type of man he is. I'm really looking forward to getting to West Virginia to start working with him and Coach Beilein, and Matt Brown too.
Maker admits he is coming to West Virginia "at an opprtune time", what with the Mountaineers coming off their Elite Eight run and with interest in the program at a generational high. He'll get a taste of that when he makes it to Morgantown this weekend in time for the basketball banquet on May 1, which will honor the 2004-05 Mountaineer squad.
"I want to get to know the University and the community and grow some roots there," said Maker. "I won't be looking to go anywhere else. I have never been to Morgantown, but when Coach Beilein asked if it was necessary for me to see it before I took the job, and I said absolutely not."
Up next, part two of our interview with Maker, in which he details his plans for his first few weeks on the job, his anticipated role at WVU, and insights into his recruiting experience.