Miami got its coaching wish. Let’s see if it pays off.
George Mason coach Jim Larranaga told the school Friday that he’ll accept the Hurricanes’ coaching job, fulfilling their wish for a coach who “preaches relentless defense, has a positive attitude and treats his players with love and respect.”
By all accounts, that’s Larranaga, a coach who’s popular with his players, charismatic and isn’t a guy who rants and raves on the sideline. Also, he’s a pretty good coach.
In 14 years at George Mason, Larranaga was 273-164 overall, won four regular-season Colonial Athletic Conference titles, three CAA tourney titles and reached the NCAA tournament five times. By comparison, Miami’s been to the NCAA tournament six times in school history.
Oh, and there’s also that Final Four berth in 2006. The Patriots beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to become the first mid-major school to reach the Final Four since the Big Dance expanded in 1985. Butler and VCU have since matched that feat, but both acknowledge Larranaga’s team cracked an all-important barrier.
His last season at Mason was the best, too. The Patriots went 27-7, won the CAA and reached the NCAAs again. He also had nearly every player back for the 2011-12 season, too. He’s passed on jobs at major conferences before, notably at his alma mater, Providence. (He reportedly didn’t even interview with Providence for its most recent opening that eventually went to Ed Cooley.)
So why leave? It likely came down to money.
Larranaga made somewhere between $525,000 and $700,000 per year, depending on bonuses. Miami was paying former coach Frank Haith more than $1 million annually. Also, George Mason reportedly wasn’t willing to give Larranaga’s assistants a pay bump.
“In all honesty, the university can only go so far with finances,” George Mason athletic director Tom O’Connor said. “We think we put together a very, very attractive financial compensation package. We couldn’t compete with an ACC school, a big football school with its budget.”
A relationship with O’Connor that got “nasty” at the end couldn’t have helped, either.
Still, it’s a somewhat puzzling move for both sides.
Larranaga takes over a program that’s mired among the ACC also-rans and has struggled to retain the healthy amount of local talent. They don’t bring in many fans, though the hoops budget is more than twice as large as George Mason’s. If Larranaga wanted a challenge, he got it.
Then there’s Larranaga’s age. He’s 61. Say it takes three years to build a team he wants and another three to give Miami a chance to enjoy that success. At that point, Miami has to start planning for Larranaga’s successor.
Call it a temporary solution to Miami’s ongoing basketball program and one final challenge to Larranaga’s career.
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