Consider the spring of 2011, when the AC’s Miami, Georgia Tech and Maryland were searching. The Hurricanes clearly didn’t rate with the Yellow Jackets and Terps, but then-athletic director Shawn Eichorst lured George Mason’s Jim Larranaga south.
No offense to Brian Gregory and Mark Turgeon, whom Georgia Tech and Maryland hired, Gregory from Dayton, Turgeon from Texas A&M. Each arrived in the ACC with impressive credentials.
But Larranaga was, and remains, more accomplished. He had famously guided George Mason to the 2006 Final Four and last season led Miami to the ACC regular season and tournament titles, and the Sweet 16. Then, despite losing his top six scorers, Larranaga coaxed the Hurricanes to a 17-16 record this season, 7-11 in the ACC.
So how did Miami lure him?
Timing, family and smarts.
Georgia Tech hired Gregory to replace Paul Hewitt on March 28, at which point neither the Miami nor Maryland gigs was open. Plus, George Mason president Alan Merten, one of Larranaga’s key allies, had just announced his retirement.
By the time Missouri hired Miami coach Frank Haith in early April, Larranaga had pondered life at Mason without Merten and his increasingly tense relationship with athletic director Tom O’Connor. Add Larranaga’s ACC and Florida roots -- he was an assistant coach at Virginia, has long owned a home near Sarasota and has family in the state – and what seemed improbable became possible.
All it took was for Miami officials not to be spooked by Larranaga’s age, 61 at the time. They wisely weren’t and hired Larranaga on April 23. Less than two weeks later, Maryland’s Gary Williams retired unexpectedly, prompting a quick search that produced Turgeon.
Today, Wake Forest, Boston College and Virginia Tech are in the market, a complication new Hokies athletic director Whit Babcock knew was possible when he fired James Johnson earlier this week, before the Eagles parted ways with Steve Donahue, the Deacons with Jeff Bzdelik.
Wake and Boston College have more distinguished pasts, recent and ancient. Deacons and Hokies fans are more energized by winning basketball. Tech has the best practice complex of the group, Wake the better arena. Metropolitan Boston is more attractive to most basketball prospects than either Winston-Salem or Blacksburg.
None of the coaches and administrators I canvassed consider Tech the most attractive of the jobs. Wake is preferred by most, with Boston College and Tech interchangeable.
But Babcock may have some advantages. He may have connections the others do not, and may be willing, for the right candidate, to offer a higher salary and/or longer contract – the latter carrot could be most appealing. Also, Babcock is selling a large, public institution rather than a small private. That matters to some coaches.
Babcock went to Tech after two-plus years as athletic director at Cincinnati. He inherited Bearcats basketball coach Mick Cronin, and from all accounts, the two bonded.
Might Cronin be advising Babcock on his search? Might Cronin play matchmaker, encouraging one of his coaching friends to consider the Tech job because of Babcock?
Or, like Miami three years ago, might the Hokies just get lucky?
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