Shortly after being named the new Athletic Director at the University of Miami, Sean Eichorst has just made his first major move by luring head coach Jim Larranaga away from George Mason. Much has been made of Larranaga’s age (61), which is immaterial as Miami isn’t a destination job. If he has a successful 5-7 year run at Miami and then retires, it’s no different than a young coach coming in, finding success, and then departing Coral Gables for a higher profile job.
The other storyline is that this is a homerun hire since George Mason was able to make a run to the Final-4 in 2006. And if you’re a fan (or a writer) who likes to evaluate teams on a terribly small sample size (the NCAA Tourney) rather than a statistically robust sample size (one or multiple seasons), then by all means, knock yourself out. But the road is littered with mid-major coaches who failed to make an impact at the major conference level despite everyone’s insistence that they’re a great X’s and O’s guy (citing their tournament run). This doesn’t mean that Larranaga is going to join that group, but predicting future success based on 4 games in March, 2006, is only slightly more valid than predicting success due to the fact that he wears boxer briefs.
Larranaga does have the opportunity for instant success with the Hurricanes. As I pointed out earlier, Miami is one of the least affected teams in the conference this year in terms of graduating seniors. If Reggie Johnson withdraws his name from the NBA draft, then the Hurricanes will have the talent to finish in the top-4 in the ACC. That alone would qualify this as a good hire as Miami has never had a winning conference record in the ACC.
Larranaga’s hiring certainly continues one trend in the ACC – the departure of black head basketball coaches. Just over two years ago the ACC had 7 black head coaches, and now have one (FSU’s Leonard Hamilton). Another trend I’ve been harping on lately is the ACC going from an up-tempo, exciting conference, to a low tempo, grinding conference. How does Larranaga fit in?
What about other coaching elements? Larranaga runs a motion offense (mostly 3-2 and 4-1) and plays mostly man-defense. In terms of how well his teams do those things, here are their national rankings since 2003.
Since 2006 his offense and defense have been in step with each other. So he doesn’t appear to be a coach who either a) focuses on one end of the court (Leonard Hamilton), or b) is a skilled enough coach to get elite results regardless of his personnel (Coach K). His teams, like most, are driven almost entirely by talent level. The fact that his teams have occasionally played high level defense should be encouraging, as Miami was a poor defensive team under Frank Haith, peaking at 47th in 2009 (99th in 2010-11). Should Larranaga improve Miami to a top-50 defense they’ll be playing in the NCAA Tournament 11 months from now.