Larranaga takes over as Miami Hurricanes Head Coach

By Dennis Berry

Last week the University of Miami head basketball coach search came to an end when they announced that Jim Larranaga had accepted the job. This will be Larranaga's first head coaching job in a major conference. He has proven he can win and Miami, although it has its limitations, should give him a chance to do it at a high level.

The hiring of Larranaga brought an end to the search for a new coach after Frank Haith, who was the Hurricanes' coach for seven seasons, left for Missouri. When the job first came open two names appeared to be perfect, Alabama's Anthony Grant and Kansas State's Frank Martin. It is unclear if they were contacted about the job. There were reports that Harvard's Tommy Amaker turned down the job when it was offered to him.

That lead the Hurricane's to Larranaga. He was the coach at George Mason University since the 1997-1998 season, which was also his only losing season there. He built George Mason into a contender in the Colonial Athletic Association. They played in the postseason nine times, making the NCAA Tournament five times. In 2006, George Mason went 27-8 and shared the CAA regular season title, made the NCAA Tournament as an 11 seed and proceeded to advance to the Final Four.

His record at George Mason was 470-164 and 165-79 in the CAA. He might not have been their first choice, but they have a proven winner. They also have a coach that can build a program that is used to little support from fans. He will face that at Miami.

There are limitations for the Miami basketball program. There is little support for the basketball program. During the 2009-2010 season the Hurricanes averaged 4,713 per game at the 8,000 seat Bank United Center. That number is expected to drop this season. Fan turnout has always been a problem for Miami.

Most of the fan support for the Hurricanes goes to the football program. The University of Miami has always been considered a football school by most. That plays a part, but there is so many entertainment options in Miami. You have Hurricanes athletics, the Miami Heat of the NBA, the Miami Dolphins of the NFL, and Florida Marlins of MLB. That is a lot of choices for sports fans to choose from.

Miami also plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is a good thing and bad thing. It is good from the standpoint that they play in a major conference and that helps attract recruits. That also hurts, because you are going against the likes of Duke and North Carolina for recruits. They also have to deal with South Florida in the Big East, Florida in the SEC, and Florida State in the ACC.

Since Miami joined the ACC in 2004, the Hurricanes have only been to the NCAA Tournament one time, they have been to the NIT four times. That is not a very impressive track record to fall back on.

Larranaga takes over as Miami Hurricanes Head Coach
University of Miami press conference to introduce the new men's basketball Head Coach Jim Larranaga at the Field House, Coral Gables, Florida.

So if recruits are looking at Miami, they see a half empty arena and little fan support for the program. Plus a program with little history of playing the NCAA Tournament.

These problems are nothing new for Larranaga. When he took over George Mason in 1997 they were facing the same problems. George Mason was coming off eight straight losing seasons. Attendance was averaged 3,489 a game for George Mason. In the 2010 season, they averaged 5,837 per game. In 2007, the year after a Final Four run, they averaged 6,834.

Can Larranaga turn Miami into a contender in the ACC? It will be a tough job to achieve. He will have to change the mind set of the basketball program. He does have selling points to work with. He can sell his proven record of success at George Mason. He can sell playing in a major basketball conference and playing some great teams in conference. Plus, the location of Miami should also be used as a strong selling point.

One point that he can offer recruits is the chance to build the Hurricanes' basketball program. There is no real history of basketball success for Miami, so players can come in and help build it. They can make their name by making Miami relevant in college basketball.

Miami can win in the ACC. They have hired a coach who has proven he can build a winner in basketball. Hopefully Larranaga can turn Miami into a basketball power and cement his reputation as a great basketball coach.

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