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Longtime Bills fan coaches Michigan into Final Four


When the Michigan basketball team takes the floor at the Final Four in Atlanta tonight, they will be coached by a native Western New Yorker. And like most young sports fans who grew up in the Buffalo area, coach John Beilein is a Bills fan.

Beilein is a native of Burt, New York, in Niagara County. He grew up there and became an avid fan of the Bills in the sixties and seventies. And he's maintained that interest in the team even as his college basketball career has taken him from Upstate New York, to Richmond, Virginia, to West Virginia, and now to Ann Arbor.

Beilein was a guest on The John Murphy Show Wednesday night. And he was asked if he's still a loyal Bills fan.

"Without question," he said. "I have it on my computer where I listen to all the games. There have been some low points in Buffalo Bills history, but there have been a lot of great ones, too.  I choose to recall the great ones."

Beilein recalled attending the Bills first-ever game in Orchard Park, an August 1973 preseason game against the Washington Redskins.  He maintained his ties to the Bills during his coaching career, which took him from Erie Community College in Buffalo, to Nazareth College in Rochester, to Lemoyne College in Syracuse, and then back to Buffalo at Canisius College. Since leaving Canisius in 1997, he's followed the Bills from afar, by satellite TV and radio broadcasts.

And Beilein admits that he sometimes schedules his October, November, and December Sunday practices to avoid conflicting with Bills games.

"Most of my career, as I do the scheduling, I look at the Bills schedule, and keeping in mind that we have other NFL fans on our team, and I try to tweak the practice schedule so I could listen to the games," he said.  "I'm just trying to make sure all of our players could become Buffalo Bills fans if they want to—give them an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon before it's too late."

Beilein's Michigan basketball team faces Syracuse Saturday night in the National Semifinals in Atlanta. And he knows that much of the Bills Upstate New York fan base is shared with the Syracuse Orange. But he's hoping that his ties to Buffalo, and his extensive network of family and friends from Buffalo to Syracuse, will mean some support for the Wolverines in the Final Four.

"There are an awful lot of people in Western New York that have been a big part of our lives, and our family's life," Beilein said. "There are so many good people, especially in Buffalo, where I coached Canisius. I hope they're rooting for us."

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