Jim Larranaga's Curious Decision to Leave George Mason for Miami

Thomas CoglianoCorrespondent IApril 22, 2011

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 20: Head coach Jim Larranaga and Paris Bennett #1 of the George Mason Patriots walk off the court after being defeated by the Ohio State Buckeyes during the third of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on March 20, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Although Coach Jim Larranaga deserved to explore other opportunities around the NCAA for a change of venue, his selection today to become the Miami Hurricanes' new head coach is peculiar and strange. 

For the past 14 seasons, Coach Larranaga has compiled a spectacular resume with the George Mason Patriots. He's compiled a record of 273-164, with five NCAA tournament appearances, including the legendary Final Four finish in 2006.  Indeed, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) earned well-deserved national attention after that celebrated run, earning the mid-major conference two at-large teams added to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. 

The success of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) at the 2011 NCAA Tournament which carried them to the Final Four, reminded many basketball fans of the Patriots of 2006. 

Only the CAA could produce such heartwarming Cinderella stories. 

Thus, after all Larranaga has done in the CAA with George Mason University, it should come to no one's surprise that he would receive a multitude of offers from other schools to coach.  However, when news broke that Miami University was closing in on a contract with the Patriots coach, confusion settled in. 

The contract that Miami has reportedly worked out with Larranaga will pay him $1,000,000 per season, which would be nearly double the salary he was being paid at GMU.  Yet this particular selection on Larranaga's part carries some baggage:

First, while Miami University is a Division I school playing in a major conference, it is a school where basketball takes a backseat to football.  Thus, Larranaga will be leaving a school where basketball was the top athletic program, to a school where it is considered secondary.  It should be noted here that George Mason University has NO football program!!! So, will the money be there for Larranaga to recruit any more effectively than at GMU? 

Second, the ACC is a conference where when it comes to basketball, Miami is not even on the tip of anyone's tongue.  Duke, North Carolina and Florida State are beyond any and all doubts the class of the ACC present.  Those three programs are widely regarded in the present as top-tier.  Then, you have Maryland and Virginia Tech as decent programs that can make a good splash depending on recruits.  After that, only then is Miami even up for discussion.  Thus, in a conference where UNC and Duke dominate the headlines in basketball, how more effective will Larranaga be than his predecessor, Frank Haith? 

Third, Miami is in a hyper-competitive state for college basketball.  If there was a ranking of state college basketball programs, Miami would be rated third behind Florida and Florida State, at best. 

Ironically, despite being from a mid-major conference, George Mason was rated in 2011 as the number one basketball program in the state of Virginia, given its 27-7 season and third-round finish in the NCAA Tournament. 

Was the state of Florida the best setting for a coach like Larranaga?

All in all, this may work out for Coach Larranaga.  But despite the higher salary involved in the new contract, reality must set in that he has taken a major gamble in removing himself from a small pond where he was the big fish, to a big pond where he is the small fish.