Larranaga leaves behind a lasting legacy at George Mason. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
When the final seconds of the national championship game ticked off we all knew that in the not too distant future a head coach from the Colonial Athletic Association would be agreeing to a new contract with a power conference program. We all knew a successful mid-major head man would bolt for the bright lights and allure of more money in the ACC or the Big East. We were all ready for it to happen - we just thought it would be Shaka Smart.
Jim Larranaga's departure from George Mason to try and revive basketball at Miami is surprising, unexpected and somewhat saddening if you're a true fan of mid-major basketball. The 61-year-old had turned down his alma mater (Providence) on two separate occasions in order to continue building the Patriots into more than simply a one-hit wonder, but a player on the national scene. He seemed like a lifer, in the same mold as Mark Few, content to stay put - but for Larranaga it was time to move on.
There are those who will say it's a move motivated by money. There are rumors of friction with the athletic department over the failure to deliver on promises of increased resources. Frankly it doesn't matter what we believe to be true or what actually is - George Mason has suffered a tremendous blow. The program is certainly capable of sustaining this loss, but it will undoubtedly have an impact. Furthermore, at his age and in a unfamiliar environment, Larranaga now runs the risk of fading into obscurity like so many coaches before him who have made the jump to greener pastures, only to fail to deliver on initial optimism.
It's truly the end of an era - to use an over utilized cliche. The many who truly helped put mid-majors on the map, an individual who was perfectly suited for the role of tour guide in this wild world that is so unfamiliar to the casual fan, the one who seemed like he would never leave has gotten up and left.
David Nakamura and Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post: "Over the past two decades, George Mason University slowly shed its reputation as little more than a decent commuter campus and evolved into a nationally respected academic institution with an enrollment that tops 32,500 and an endowment that swelled to $100 million. The school's coming-out party was punctuated during the 2006 NCAA men's basketball tournament when the low-seeded Patriots upset more established powerhouses en route to the program's first-ever Final Four appearance. On a national stage, the Fairfax school's scrappy team suggested that anything was possible. Except, perhaps, keeping the high-profile coach who made it happen and became synonymous with George Mason's rise. On Friday, Coach Jim Larranaga, 61, announced he was leaving the school after 14 seasons to take a job at the University of Miami that reportedly will pay him more than twice the $525,000 base salary he earned at GMU. Coming a month after the announced retirement of longtime school president Alan G. Merten, the other man credited with lifting Mason's national stature, Larranaga's departure was a blow to a campus that had begun to think of itself as a final destination for top talent, not a waystation to bigger and better things."
Ron Fritz of the Baltimore Sun: "Let's face it: Taking George Mason to the Final Four in 2006 was probably as far as he was going to take the Patriots. Winning a national championship at GMU was going to be nearly impossible. Larranaga is 61, has coached George Mason for 14 years, and wants one last chance to win an NCAA title. He's also a former ACC guy, having been an assistant at Virginia under Terry Holland. I suspect that he wants to prove he can coach in the ACC, too. The ACC just got a whole lot more interesting for Maryland. If Larranaga can turn Miami into a force, and there's no reason to think he won't (he's won everywhere he's been), then the Terps have another program to contend with outside of returning powers Duke, North Carolina and Florida State. It's not the money that's driving Larranaga, it's the challenge. Winning an NCAA title would be the final addition to his resume."
Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald: "George Mason basketball coach Jim Larranaga, who led the Patriots to an improbable Final Four run in 2006, was hired Friday morning as the new head coach at the University of Miami. A press conference to formally introduce him is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. "Coach Larranaga is the real deal," University of Miami president Donna Shalala said. "He's a winner, an inspirational leader, and he cares deeply about his players and staff. We're delighted to welcome him and his wife as the newest members of the Miami Hurricane family." George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor told the Washington Post and Associated Press that Larranaga called him Friday morning to tell him the news. He said UM offered a financial package George Mason couldn't match. Larranaga, 61, was making $525,000 base annual salary with incentives up to $700,000 and the UM deal is believed to be in the $1 million-per-year range. "In all honesty, the university can only go so far with finances," O'Connor said, according to the AP. "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."
Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post: "So why would a 61-year-old guy leave a cushy job at a top mid-major college basketball program to coach a team whose history is mostly forgettable? "I'm crazy," Jim Larranaga said a couple of questions into a news conference introducing him on Friday night as the University of Miami's men's basketball coach. Anything but, although Larranaga certainly has plenty of personality. During his question-and-answer session with reporters, Larranga quoted Confucius, emphasized words by unexpectedly shouting them out and broke out into a little Spanish. "You can tell he's going to be a lot of fun," said senior guard Malcolm Grant, who was in attendance Friday with most of his teammates. Judging by his history at George Mason, Larranaga will do far more than act colorfully. In 14 seasons, Larranaga coached the Patriots to five NCAA tournaments and famously led his 2006 team to the Final Four before it lost to eventual national champion Florida."
Jeremy Hoeck of the Yankton Press & Dakotan: "A University of South Dakota men's basketball player will test himself against some of the top college players in the country. Charlie Westbrook, who will be a senior next season, entered his named this week for early entry in the upcoming NBA draft. Though, by not hiring an agent, the 6-foot-4 guard can retain his college eligibility by removing his name from the list by Sunday, May 8. "I feel that I can compete with the best," he said Thursday. "I am anxious to see how I match up with the best talent in the country and what I can bring to the table in front of scouts." By at least declaring, Westbrook can still work out for NBA organizations from April 24 until May 8. "My main focus right now is grinding to get better," he said. "I am just testing the waters to have my game and skills evaluated by NBA scouts."
Jeff Goodman at FoxSports.com hands out grades for the coaching hires made so far this off-season, with a nice look at mid-majors specifically. Among the top marks were Dayton for the hire of Archie Miller, Louisiana Tech for bringing on Mike White and of course UNLV's addition of Dave Rice to fill the void left by Lon Kruger. The school with the lowest grade is undoubtedly Cal State Bakersfield who is bringing in former Georgia State coach Rod Barnes.
Natalie Meisler of the Denver Post: "Tim Miles recruited 6-foot-10, 258-pound center Colton Iverson out of high school in Yankton, S.D. After three years at Minnesota, Iverson decided to accept Miles' offer. Iverson will transfer to Colorado State, sitting out next season and playing his senior season in 2012-13. "Adding Colton is a huge benefit for our program," Miles said in a statement. "He will be a missing piece to our puzzle."
Jim Meehan of the Spokesman-Review: "Manny Arop, a valuable reserve as a freshman whose playing time dwindled over the second half of his sophomore season, has been granted his release from the Gonzaga men's basketball team. Arop is expected to continue his career at another school. Under NCAA rules, the 6-foot-6 wing would have to sit out one season if he transfers to a Division I school. "Manny is an awesome individual, a great teammate, a great guy who just wants the opportunity to go play more somewhere else," head coach Mark Few said in a Gonzaga release. "He's been great around our team, our staff and my kids, but he thinks there might be opportunities to play more at another place. He's going to explore those opportunities. We wish him the best." Arop, who left his native Sudan as a youngster to move to Canada, averaged 3.5 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman. He had four points and eight boards in a WCC Tournament semifinal win over Loyola Marymount before suffering a broken foot."