George Mason University’s commitment to basketball began when they built the Patriot Center. My class was the first to graduate in the almost-finished building. Things got more interesting when GMU hired Jim Larranaga as head coach. Obviously the highlight of Larranaga’s 14-year run was the Patriots’ 2006 trip to the Final Four.
Coach L dumped Mason on Friday to accept the head coaching gig at the University of Miami. The new job comes with a huge raise for Larranaga. On the surface it seems to be about the money but Baltimore Sun columnist Ron Fritz points out that it’s more about winning. Fritz believes that Larranaga wants to prove he can succeed in the higher-profile ACC and that Miami gives Coach L a better shot at a national championship than GMU. The most discouraging part of Fritz’s column is this: “Let’s face it: Taking George Mason to the Final Four in 2006 was probably as far as he was going to take the Patriots. Winning a national championship at GMU was going to be nearly impossible.”
Down in Florida, Sun Sentinel columnist Mike Berardino mentions that George Mason athletic director Tom O’Connor made a huge mistake by not keeping up with Virginia Commonwealth University, which gave coach Shaka Smart a big raise for doing the same thing Larranaga did five years earlier. It’s also very likely that the impending retirement of GMU President Alan Merten was a factor in Larranaga’s decision.
While Miami is celebrating, Mason Nation is devastated and reeling. My former colleague Russ Allen has been sending me updates via Twitter. He mentioned some possible replacements for Larranaga but I’m not ready to even Google the names yet.