The man no more: Jim Larranaga’s motives to move to Miami

Jim Swing
Assistant Sports Editor

Commonwealth Times Sports’ Twitter

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No one saw it coming. Probably not even Jim Larranaga himself.

The talks randomly showed up on the doorstep Thursday morning, then – like a flash – he was taking his talents to South Beach.

Thanks to Larranaga’s abrupt departure after 14 years at George Mason for a head coaching job at the University of Miami, critics and analysts will debate who, what, when, where and why for the next couple of years.

At 61 years of age, why leave a self-built Colonial Athletic Association power that he has taken to the NCAA tournament three out the last five years for a middling Atlantic Coast Conference school that has been once over that time span?

The answer isn’t justified by simply pointing out that it was an ACC head-coaching job awaiting a long-time mid-major coach. Or that warm and sunny South Beach sounded like a place of serenity for the approaching senior citizen to close out his career and ease into retirement with his family.

The answer can be found within the deep, dark confines of the CAA.

After taking the Patriots to five NCAA tournament appearances – including an improbable Final Four run in 2006 – for years Larranaga had built himself into the face of the CAA.

He compiled more wins than any other coach in conference history (273) and was the highest paid; he came forth as the leader of the growing CAA that had his name associated with every sentence it contained.

But that all changed this past postseason.

The attention shifted when VCU second-year head coach Shaka Smart led his team on an unimaginable run to the Final Four that not only trumped Larranaga’s earlier run in 2006, but also came with a price.

Just two days after the Rams finished their run, Smart inked a new eight-year contract with a base salary of $1.2 million a year, more than twice the amount of Larranaga’s salary at George Mason ($525,000).

Two years of success worth double the amount of 14 years of homegrown pride and honor?

That’s right. Not to mention Smart turned down a job at North Carolina State, which finished just one game under the Hurricanes at the bottom of the ACC.

The 31-year old Smart has the look, the swagger and the coaching style that contains the perfect package to move in as the new face of the CAA.

Larranaga is no longer “the guy” of the conference. He has been replaced by a younger, newer talent that is on pace to surpass his accomplishments quickly.

Think about having worked at a job for 14 years, and a new, cooler and younger dude walks in off the street and not only matches your top achievement in his second year, but receives an enormous raise immediately after.

Stings, right? It would make anyone in their right mind want to get out right away.

Larranaga knew his time was coming to an end at George Mason, and Smart’s major deal was just the icing on the cake.

That, thrown in a mixer with the fact that Miami presents a last chance at romance for Larranaga to produce on a large stage, and the decision was cake.

He was the poster child of the CAA before Smart came along.

He liked being the guy everybody (including opposing team’s fans) loved and nobody hated.

He adored being the coach that ran over to the fans with arms wide open following a win, and even the losing team’s fans would smile.

But like all good things, it had to come to an end.

Photo by: Kyle Laferriere

4 Comments

  1. What an incredibly naive article and I’m not a Mason fan. Larranaga being chased out by a guy who finished 5th and 4th in the CAA? Seriously – you think he felt threatened by a 2nd year coach who’s job was being called for by VCU fans just a few months ago? Larranaga knew his time at Mason was coming to an end? How long have you been following CAA basketball – one year? There is a stable of great coaches in the CAA. Larranaga was one of them for sure but the CAA is deep with coaching talent. Taylor, Flint, Coen, Brady, and Peterson to name a few. Smart may join those ranks one day but he has a long ways to go before being called top coach in the CAA. How about a regular season championship? How about a tournament championship before being called the top CAA coach. You need perspective – not emotion from a great NCAA run.

  2. Excellent comment, Mike. I totally agree. I’m an ACC guy (went to UNC), but I’ve spent a bit of time in the VA area and have become a CAA fan. Your tournament this year was better than the ACC’s. This seemed like a business decision (one thing I agreed on was “a last chance… to produce on a large stage”). There are incentives to a new contract in Miami: school with much more money, no state tax, and he has 3 siblings in FL. Good luck being the basketball coach at a football school. We struggle with the opposite at UNC. Again, well said, Mike.

  3. As far as D. Pizzle (What a name, what a name) and Mike are concerned VCU has no say in what goes on in the CAA. You can claim as much as you want that you are not a “fan” but your allegiances undoubtedly lay somewhere in northern virginia (Hint, Hint) Larranaga could have stayed in the CAA and competed with the likes of Taylor, Brady (overrated) , Bruiser and the up and coming Shaka smart but the florida sun, a bigger pay check and new opportunities to compete on a much bigger stage pushed Larranaga over the edge. As far as jealousy goes you know old jimmy boy was a bit upset that Shaka started pulling in the big bucks after the final four run and he was being payed less than the young buck. In the end i believe Larranaga made the decision for himself and sought a new opportunity and loved the location (Daughter goes to school in florida) as well as the pay check, but to say Shaka Smart’s pay day did not irk Larranaga in the slightest is just ignorant.

    BTW Mason is falling before our eyes, looks like Luke Hancock is transferring, a promising year is tumbling downward already before the tip off of the first regular season game.

  4. I'm not sure that this field is active and usable anymore after so many years…..but my comments to VCU Fans….. a recording of Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons…."Haa Haa"…..Shaka Smart was special, as was Jim Larranaga, dis you think you he was so special as turn down a contract at a big time school such as Texas to stay at that former arts school in Richmond, Va? Dream on. May VCU be cursed with a bad as a replacement as Paul "Blewit"……Haa Haa!

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