Miami Goes The Safe Route With Jim LarranagaPosted by nvr1983 on April 23rd, 2011
Over the past three weeks we have heard all kinds of speculation about why Miami opted not to pursue Kansas State coach Frank Martin. He would need too much money. A statement that Martin refuted as his base salary was essentially the same as Frank Haith‘s base salary at Miami and was only made higher due to the fact that Martin’s teams won enough to hit performance-based incentives. His demeanor turned off Miami officials at a game at this season’s Orange Bowl Classic. A fair criticism if you are looking to run a youth league team, but some of the biggest coaching names in college basketball are well-known in media circles for their foul language. Do you think that Miami officials wouldn’t love Mike Krzyzewski on their sideline (ignoring what would likely be an astronomical salary to get him to leave Duke)? He was caught cheating at Miami Senior High. Perhaps the only fair criticism as Martin’s championship team, which featured Udonis Haslem and Steve Blake, had its 1998 state championship vacated due to recruiting violations related to using players zoned outside the school’s area. It is worth noting that Martin was never formally accused on any wrongdoing, but in the eyes of many in the Miami-Dade basketball community he was culpable.
Now Miami has opted to go with George Mason coach Jim Larranga, a fine coach to be sure and one who has actually advanced further in the NCAA Tournament than Martin ever has (Final Four versus Elite Eight), but you would be hard-pressed to find a pundit who would argue that Larranaga was a better fit for Coral Gables than Martin. This is not intended to minimize Larranaga’s accomplishments at George Mason, which are laudable as he not only made the Final Four (2006), but also made the NCAA Tournament four other times including this year where his team was considered a borderline top 25 team late in the season.
The issue is that he simply is not as ideal of a candidate as Martin would be in Miami. For all of Larranaga’s success at George Mason it has been accomplished in the Colonial Athletic Association, which is a solid league and can occasionally produce a Cinderella or two (as VCU showed us this year), but year in year out from top to bottom it cannot compete with the ACC or the Big 12, which is where Martin has been successful. Larranaga also has not been able to land the level of recruit that Miami would need to succeed in the ACC while Martin has, to an extent, in his short tenure as head coach at Kansas State. Larranaga has done a good job recruiting at a solid mid-Atlantic mid-major school, but he has essentially no experience in Florida and the Miami-Dade area in particular. By contrast, Martin has made the latter his recruiting backyard despite being nearly 1,500 miles away. The area’s basketball talent is not even close to its football talent, but it is a solid area especially if one could extend his reach up to the Tampa-Orlando area, which has produced numerous big recruits in the past 10 years. With Martin physically in Miami that recruiting area would essentially his to pluck from although Billy Donovan might have something to say about that.
Then there is the age difference. We don’t want to upset our “more seasoned” readers, but Larranaga is 16 years older than Martin. Larranaga will be 62 when next season starts so realistically he might coach another 5 to 10 years. Looking at where Miami’s program is, its place in the ACC, and the fact that this hiring will not create a shock wave in any recruiting circles it seems like it would take Larranaga at least five years to turn the program around into a legitimate player in the ACC and then the Miami administration would need to start its coaching search again as Larranaga would be approaching retirement age. With Martin the Hurricanes would have a coach who is not only highly coveted, but also relatively young in coaching terms. Martin could not only build up the program, but also carry it into the next phase where it could be a perennial contender.
In a way Miami made the safe hire. Hiring Larranaga will not generate much praise from the media or Miami fans, but you would have a tough time finding someone who would criticize Larranaga as a coach or a person. He isn’t the sexy hire. He is the safe one that you can bring home to the school’s administration without worrying that he might embarrass you. Unfortunately that isn’t what Miami needed. They had a chance to hit a home run by hiring Frank Martin, but decided to lay down a bunt.