Friday, April 22, 2011

It's All About the Sun and the Money as Larranaga Leaves Mason for Miami

When news broke out last night that George Mason gave the University of Miami permission to talk to Jim Larranaga, it was at first quite stunning.  During the offseason, there were several CAA coaches - Blaine Taylor, Shaka Smart and Bruiser Flint who were bandied about in the news for seemingly higher profile jobs.  But they all stayed put.  Instead, one of the least likely to go, or so probably many thought, ends up leaving for the sun and hobknobbing with LeBron and Wade.

Mike Litos put it best in his terrific article today about Larranaga taking over the Miami job.

"Larranaga would appear to be the perfect candidate to try to resurrect the moribund program. 
But Larranaga is 61 years old. How many years, seriously, until Miami is doing this all over again? It takes a special kind of energy for what Larranaga is undertaking. It seems like a fine idea now, but how does he feel crisscrossing the country in July 2015, when Larranaga is 65 years old?"  
Well I have four reasons to answer that.

1) As Litos notes, Larranaga probably realizes that with Alan Merten leaving as a president of George Mason that the new incoming administration may not be as open to expanding the basketball program than under Merten.   Larranaga had talked to the administration about getting his coaches better paid (as Litos so correctly notes, "why wasn't this done in 2006?") but perhaps that fell on deaf ears.  Also apparently he was having a difficult time with Mason AD Tom O' Connor about getting his assistant coaches better paid (and perhaps Larranaga as well).

2) As Litos notes, Larranaga is 61.  He probably has only a few years left.  So why not get a great contract now for the next four years after which he can basically retire?   Based on the rumored numbers, his new annual salary will be in excess of $1 million (and from what Brian Mull tweeted me earlier, it's possibly closer to $2 million a year).   And based on his current contract with George Mason, I am sure there will be bonuses if he makes the NCAA Tournament, wins a first round NCAA Tournament game and wins the ACC tournament (I know, good luck with that one).  Plus there are the basketball camps, TV and radio shows etc that will give him additional income.

3) Now some of you are saying, well why did he turn down the Providence job a few years ago but now is taking the Miami job?  Well, first he was three years younger when he turned down Providence.  Second, Providence would have been a higher pressure job.   The Friars have a history of success with former coaches Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan.  The result has been what seems to be a too high expected rate of success for the Friars program.  And despite Tim Welsh leading the Friars to several NCAA Tournament appearances, that didn't seem to be enough for the administration or the Friar boosters.

So three years ago, since it being his alma mater, Larranaga would have been seen as the savior at Providence.  And trying to be successful in the Big East is much more difficult than ever with the now sixteen team league.  Larranaga was wise to turn it down (as was Tom Pecora to turn down Seton Hall in 2006).  Keno Davis' firing after only three years is just further proof of the lack of patience that Providence has as far as its basketball program.  And perhaps Larranaga was wise to pass on the job again in light of this stunning article about Jamine Peterson.

So thus, the reason he is taking the Miami job, and thus why he didn't take the Providence job, is that there is less pressure at Miami than say Providence.  First, unlike Providence where Marshon Brooks has graduated, Miami has basically its entire team returning.  Center Reggie Johnson declared for the NBA Draft but didn't hire an agent, so he could decide to return to school for his junior year.   Second, the Hurricanes don't have a rich tradition in college hoops.  They have been to the NCAA Tournament only six times with a record of 4-6.

In comparison, Providence has been to 15 NCAA Tournaments with two Final Fours. George Mason has had as many tournament appearances as Miami, six, and of course has been to a Final Four (overall record 5-6).   So though there will be a lot of fanfare of Larranaga coming aboard, he won't be as under as much pressure as he would have been at say Providence.  Miami is, of course, a football school.  Any success by Larranaga during his tenure there will be gravy.

4) Finally, it's Miami, duh!  If you are going to spend the last few years of your basketball career, why not spend it in South Beach, home of LeBron, Wade, beautiful women and warm weather.   Let's face it, it beats the climate of Providence or Fairfax.   And if you are going to retire, you usually end up in Florida anyway.  Thus Jim doesn't have to move all that far once he retires from the game.

So for those four reasons, Larranaga had to take the Miami position - salary, sun, less pressure and the ability to shape the program the way he wants.  I am sure he will take several of his top assistants with him and it could be all of them depending on who the new coach will be at George Mason.

Now I grant you the Miami position isn't George Mason.  Right now, I would take Mason's team over Miami's team any day of the week.  As I tweeted earlier today (remember, follow me at gmoore21566), the Patriots had four of their five returning starters from a 27-7 team (16-2 in the CAA) coming back for the 2011-12 season.  This is a team certainly capable of not just winning the CAA next season but possibly making the Sweet Sixteen in 2012.    Miami is a decent team but not as good.   Also, as I noted, Miami is a football school.   So unless Miami makes at least the Final Four, the basketball team will never get the publicity the football team does.  Hopefully the media savvy Larranaga realizes that.

It will be interesting to see what Larranaga says at his press conference at Miami about why he accepted the position.   If he is honest enough, he should say it was for the salary and the sun.   Otherwise, why leave a better team at Mason?

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