Larranaga completes surprise Miami move

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
1:14
PM ET
Well, that didn't take long.

On Thursday evening, George Mason officially granted its coach, Jim Larranaga, the freedom to speak with athletic director Shawn Eichorst about the job opening at Miami.

Twelve hours later, it's done. Larranaga is going to be the next coach of the Miami Hurricanes.

Why the sudden move? Why leave a surefire winner in the Colonial for a surefire rebuild in the ACC? The simple answer, as is so often the case, is money. The kind of money -- including salary increases for him and his assistants -- that an ACC school can offer and a CAA one can't. According to The Washington Post, Larranaga had been in contract discussions with George Mason officials since the Patriots' season ended in March, but no agreement was reached.

Thanks to the Hurricanes, Larranaga will receive that healthy boost in salary and then some. The coach currently makes between $525,000 and $700,000 at Mason; his deal at Miami will be worth more than $1 million annually, CBS's Gary Parrish reported today.

Beyond the speed of the switch, which happened remarkably fast even by modern coaching-search standards, this is a surprising decision. Larranaga's stock was never higher than after he led the Patriots to the Final Four in 2006 -- George Mason was Butler and VCU before Butler and VCU -- but Larranaga has spurned plenty of intriguing offers from high-major programs in the years since. Instead, he's returned to rebuild his budding Colonial power.

The rebuild came to fruition in 2011: Mason was one of the best true mid-major teams in the country, winning the CAA regular-season title and beating Villanova in the NCAA tournament in the process. From the outside, at least, the 61-year-old Larranaga looked like a GMU lifer. At the very least, he seemed unwilling to make any marginal or lateral moves.

From a sheer basketball perspective, given the talent Larranaga will leave behind at Mason, this is arguably a lateral move.

It happens to be a fantastic one for Miami. The Hurricanes drew some minor flak for being unwilling to up their financial commitment to the level needed to chase Kansas State's Frank Martin, a Miami native who would have been a perfect fit for the job vacated by new Missouri coach Frank Haith. In the end, though, the Canes got as good a coach as they were going to get, and the school did so without trying to poach an expensive high-major coach away from his already-coddled job.

Make no mistake: This is a coup for Eichorst. Miami began this offseason with Haith, who went 43-69 in seven years in the ACC and went to just one NCAA tournament. Eichorst's hire means the Hurricanes will end it with Larranaga, who led Mason to three CAA championships, five NCAA tournaments and a 273-164 record.

I believe the term for that is "trading up."

In any case, alongside Haith's hiring at Missouri, this will be the coaching carousel surprise of the 2011 offseason. Next up: Getting Miami to an NCAA tournament. If Larranaga can do that at Mason, it stands to reason he'll be capable of the same at Miami. In the process, he could change the dynamic in the ACC -- at the very least making it deeper and slightly more competitive than in recent seasons -- and build the Hurricanes into some semblance of a basketball brand. Oh, and he gets to live (and possibly retire?) in Miami. Surprise or not, the more you think about it, the more this move starts to feel like a winner for everybody involved.

Well, everybody but George Mason. Patriots fans will not be using the term "win" to describe this one any time soon.

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