Jim Larranaga leaves George Mason for Miami

Jim Larranaga leaves George Mason for Miami
April 22, 2011, 2:39 pm
Share This Post

Friday, April 22, 201110:45 a.m.Updated 9:28 p.m.By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comFAIRFAX -- George Mason director of athletics Tom O'Connor granted permission for his men's basketball coach, Jim Larranaga, to speak with the University of Miami about its opening. By 9 on a rainy Friday morning, O'Connor knew he was now the one with a vacancy.That's when Larranaga, who put the Patriots on the national college basketball map by directing their riveting run to the 2006 Final Four, told O'Connor he was taking the job with the ACC program. George Mason and Miami announced their sides of the coaching change on Friday. Larranaga was introduced asthe Hurricanes' new coach at a Friday eveningnews conference."The last 14 years of my life have been absolutely wonderful," Larranaga said, reflecting on his time at George Mason. The now 61-year old coach took the Fairfax program to five NCAA tournaments during his 14 seasons. So why the move?For one, scratching that professional itch.For the first time in his career he will be the head coach of a team from a power conference. Larranaga previously wasan assistant coach in the ACC, having spent time at the University of Virginiain the early 1980's when the Cavaliers twice reached the Final Four."I am very excited to be here,"Larranaga exclaimed to the Hurricanes supporters. "It's kind of like the last piece in a coaching career to finalize what I hope to be about."Two, location, location, location. Three siblings live in Florida, his father was born in Key West and their grandfather emigrated from Cuba. Also,Larranaga owns a home in Sarasota.Then there is the financial compensation.On Thursday, CSNwashington.com confirmedwith a Patriots spokesperson that George Mason had been in discussion about a contract extension with Larranaga since the season ended.The Washington Post reported that Larranaga was under contract at George Mason through the 2015-16 season. In the spring of 2008 and after receiving overtures from Providence, Larranagas alma mater, he received a contract extension that increased his base salary to 525,000. Last season, Larranaga earned about 700,000 after reaching several incentives.One source told CBSSports.com that Larranaga's deal with Miami will be valued at more than 1 million annually. OConnor said he was not aware of the terms involving Miami, but George Mason would have a difficult time matching an offer from an ACC school.We were able to put together a total compensation that, in a good year, would have put him among within top five mid-major coaches in the country, OConnor said at a late Friday afternoon news conference on the George Mason campus. We were very satisfied with what wepresented to Jim.Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart, who this past season followed Larranagas path of taking a Colonial Athletic Association program to the Final Four, was rewarded with a new contract that will pay him 1.2 million annually.Were deeply respectful of Jim wanting to take the Miami position, OConnor said . We have deep gratitude for the things hes done for the university as an ambassador and all the good will he did for us in the community and certainly with our basketball program.After meeting with Miami officials, Larranaga flew back to break the news to the George Mason players on campus before heading back to South Florida.Once I heard the speculation, I knew it was a possibility that hed take that job, Patriots junior center Mike Morrison said. It was disappointing that we were going to lose our coach, but thats how the game works with coaching. You move up and give other people an opportunity to step up and coach. We have to deal with it and accept it for what it is.Former Miami head coach Frank Haith left the program earlier this month to take the same position at Missouri. The Hurricanes finished 21-15 overall, 6-10 and ninth place in the 12-team ACC. "Coach Larranaga is the real deal, Miami school president Donna Shalala said in a statement released Friday afternoon. Hes a winner, an inspirational leader, and he cares deeply about his players and staff. Were delighted to welcome him and his wife as the newest members of the Miami Hurricane family. Multiple reports described the relationship between Larranaga and OConnor as rocky and perhaps "nasty" near the end, but OConnor denied such a situation. I thought it was great. It was a terrific relationship, OConnor said Friday.George Mason's longtimeUniversity President Alan Merten, who Larranaga menitoned multiple times in his introductory remarks at Miami, is retiring in June 2012.In addition to the NCAA tournament appearances, Larranaga led the Patriots to threeColonial Athletic Associationchampionships and compiled a 273-164 overall record.This past season, George Mason finished 27-7, went undefeated at home and won theCAA regular-season title. The Patriots' success was rewarded with an at-large bid and a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, the highest in school history. After defeating Villanova in its first game, George Mason lost to top-seeded Ohio State."Hes taught me a lot, not just about basketball, but life," Morrison said. "Hes a great motivational speaker, and we all look up to him." Before Larranaga's arrival from Bowling Green, the Patriots had reached the NCAA tournament only one time.The basketball program started at a lower level, and he has built it to the program that it is today and left the program that we can build in the future and still become a factor nationally and locally, OConnor said. The bulk of last season's team is returning, including starters Ryan Pearson, Luke Hancock, Morrison and Andre Cornelius. Even without Larranaga, the Patriots likely willbe the CAA preseason favorite to win the upcoming regular season.We had such a great season and other programs admire us and want Coach to come there and do the same, Morrison said. It reflects the job weve done, how great of a team we are. Hopefully, we continue that same thing next year with our new coach. As for the next hire, names that could surface include Cornell Coach Bill Courtney, a former assistant to Larranaga at George Mason for eight seasons. Vermont's Mike Lonergan, a former assistant at Maryland and head coach at Catholic, is another potential candidate with local ties.