In one of the more shocking twists on this year's college basketball coaching carousel, Jim Larranaga is heading from George Mason to Miami.
No, the 61-year-old is not retiring to South Beach. He's taking over one of the ACC's perennial underachievers.
It might not come as such a surprise had Larranaga not spent 14 seasons at George Mason, having even interviewed for the vacant position at his alma mater — Providence — in 2008. He seemed destined to retire there.
He got George Mason on the map with an out-of-nowhere 2006 Final Four run, and the program has remained solid ever since. The Patriots this season went 27-7, won the CAA regular season title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
But this move appears to have some deeper roots.
Larranaga gets a raise from an annual salary of $525,000 (he made $700,000 after hitting several incentives last season) to reportedly in the neighborhood of $1 million at Miami. The Washington Post reports that since the end of the season, he was in talks with the school regarding an extension on his contract, which runs through 2015-16, but also trying to get better deals for his staff.
Many have speculated that that was a sticking point leading up to the job change.
"It's not about the money," a source told The Post. "It's about showing a little love."
Apparently, not enough was shown.
Larranaga went 273-164 at George Mason, including four NCAA tourney appearances. The program remained strong in recent years despite a boost in the CAA's profile, with the league having earned three NCAA tournament bids this year. That trio included another Final Four cinderella in VCU.
Miami is a job that, in reality, Larranaga is perfectly suited for. The Hurricanes are an annual underdog in the top-heavy ACC. They haven't posted a winning record in league play since going 10-6 in 2001-02, and have only made the NCAA tournament twice in the last decade.
Beginning with the Final Four jaunt, Larranaga established himself nationally as one of college basketball's premier underdog coaches. It's a nice match.
Support for the program is always tough to drum up, as it's a school where football is king, and everything else lumped together is a distant second (maybe third).
But there should, at the very least, be talent for Larranaga to work with, barring sudden departures over the next few weeks. The Canes lost just one senior off of a team that went 21-15, though sophomore center Reggie Johnson declared for the NBA draft without hiring an agent. If he returns, there will be a nice core trio in place between him, senior guard Malcolm Grant and junior guard Durand Scott.
Still, it'll take more than what Larranaga has at his disposal in Year One to crack the ACC's thick upper crust. Will he be able to recruit the fertile Florida turf? If not, you'd have to imagine that kids from his old territory in the greater Washington D.C. area might like the idea of heading south for the school year.
On the other side, George Mason returns all five starters and is primed for another run to the NCAAs. It's an appealing enough gig that the school might be able to lure in some intriguing East Coast names, but the sights might have to be set a little bit lower if money really is going to be that tight.
Perhaps Larranaga had run out of challenges at George Mason. Maybe he just woke up one day this month thinking it was time for a change of scenery. Or could it have all been about the money?
He might never truly come out and say, but to take on this project at 61, it shows that Larranaga still has plenty of coaching life left in him.
Now we'll see if it's enough to make Miami basketball relevant.