Saturday, April 23, 2011

King James II Takes His Talents To South Beach

Five years after redefining Cinderella with George Mason's Final Four run, Jim Larranaga leaves the mid-major fraternity after being introduced as new coach at Miami. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Nine months ago, the world was witness to a controversial, yet historic, event in sports history when LeBron James announced he would "take his talents to South Beach" and sign with the Miami Heat after spending the first seven years of his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Less than a year later, South Florida gets a new recruit named James; only this one will be recruiting others in his line of work.

Jim Larranaga, best known for his fourteen-year tenure at the helm of George Mason University that was highlighted by the Patriots' miraculous Final Four run in 2006 that saw the mid-major darling dispose of three previous national champions on their way to the national semifinals, accepted the vacant head coaching position at the University of Miami in a press conference last night. Although 61 years old, Larranaga replaces Frank Haith as the Hurricanes' new head man after Haith left South Florida earlier this month to replace Mike Anderson at Missouri after the "40 Minutes of Hell" architect was hired at Arkansas.

"It's kind of the last piece in a coaching career," said the New York native, a former player under legendary high school coach Jack Curran at Archbishop Molloy in Queens. "This opportunity is very special to me. I'd love to coach in the ACC, take teams to Cameron, (Indoor Stadium) the Dean Dome, compete at the highest level." Larranaga will approximately double his salary at Miami after leaving George Mason on the heels of yet another NCAA Tournament appearance with the Patriots, one in which Mason defeated Villanova in their first game before being
thoroughly decimated by Ohio State in the round of 32.

After this hire was speculated upon earlier in the week before becoming official last night in Coral Gables, I had mostly positive feelings on the direction in which the Hurricanes decided to pursue. Larranaga, who I honestly did not ever expect to leave Mason, emerged victorious in a race that included Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter, Mike Davis of UAB and Florida Atlantic's Mike Jarvis after Tommy Amaker opted to remain at Harvard and Frank Martin, regarded by many as the frontrunner after Haith's departure was made public, chose to stay at Kansas State. While some view this move as a transfer similar to Oliver Purnell bolting Clemson for DePaul a year ago, I do not see the correlation. Miami may not be as attractive a position as its ACC brethren North Carolina, Duke, or Maryland; but there is a great talent pool available to Larranaga, who is just as great a coach as he is an underrated recruiter. Not only that, but Larranaga's personality and track record should endear him to alumni and fans rather quickly as Miami looks to return to its past glory not seen since Leonard Hamilton paced the sidelines.

From another standpoint, I consider Larranaga a fallback option after Amaker decided to turn the Hurricanes down; yet at the same time Miami should have at least taken a look at Bobby Gonzalez. I won't build another case for Bobby in this article, as I have already done so in a previous piece; but the mere inclusion of Gonzalez in the search would have added more attention to a program that has quickly become overlooked in the Atlantic Coast Conference in both basketball and football since leaving the Big East to join the league in 2004. As recently as a few years ago, Miami football was among the top ten programs in the country on a perennial basis. Now, new head coach Al Golden has his work cut out for him as he looks to restore the 'Canes to national prominence.

It's much easier for Miami to succeed in basketball despite the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Maryland, as the ACC does not look as strong on paper going into the 2011-12 season as it did in this past year; and Jim Larranaga, despite what people may think about his perplexing hire, is one of the better guys to spearhead a resurgence.

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