Larranaga's age being overplayed? Here's why not
Posted on: April 22, 2011 12:30 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 12:36 pm
Finding it funny that after we had all this discussion about the hotness of young coaches, an elder statesmen taking on a job unexpectedly is getting the offseason conversation going. Chris Mooney and Shaka Smart spurned major-conference schools to stay at Richmond and VCU. Relatively young Frank Martin never even got a phone call, supposedly, from Miami, a city he considers home.
And here's Jim Larranaga pulling the rug out from under everyone.
The criticism over Larranaga's hire at Miami was met with just as much blowback to said criticism within an hour of it being reported as a done deal. If you ask me, his age doesn't reflect or affect his ability to coach. Some think this situation puts Larranaga in a transition stage toward retirement. I can buy that. I can also buy the notion, which many have, that he'll do just fine at Miami, which has floated around the 20-win mark for the past four seasons, yet has been seen (rightfully) as a bottom-tier ACC gig.
Let that debate continue on for the next week, month and even year, seeing what Larranaga can do in Coral Gables, and how his job compares to what George Mason does in 2011-12. Mason is considered the CAA favorite heading into next season. Miami is not expected to make the NCAA tournament.
Regardless, here's what's not arguable: Larranaga's hire is of a rare variety because of his age. He's 61 years old, and by my cursory research, only Mike Montgomery can claim to be in Larranaga's company. The Cal coach was hired three years ago at the same, tender age. Other than these two men, no one in the past decade has been hired at a major-conference school beyond the age of 60.
The chatter increases because he's a coaching outlier. It's not about his ability to succeed, it's just the shock and awe of the move at this time of his life, compounded by his track record at the school he's leaving in contrast with the one he's going to. There isn't a deep data pool or frame of reference to glean from, so some questions and head-scratching accompanies the news. No matter conference status, really, getting a head-coaching gig in your seventh decade on the planet is not all that common.
Lon Kruger comes close to Larranaga Territory. He recently relocated from Las Vegas to Oklahoma at the age of 58. Oliver Purnell dropped out on Clemson to head to DePaul (a move that has its parallels with what Larranaga's done) last year, when he was 56. I know John Beilein feels like a grandpa, but he was just 55 when Michigan brought him on back in 2008. Even Fran Dunphy, who has that quiet, elderly tone and aura to him, was hired by Temple when he was 57, practically a whippersnapper!
How about this one: Bob Knight was younger than Larranaga when Texas Tech brought on the General in 2001. Now you're seeing why, fair or not, his age is a water-cooler topic. (And I can't believe Knight's only 70.
Money aside, Mason is a better job than Miami. But this appears to be about the money and a disintegrating relationship between Larranaga and his athletic director. No, there's no reason Larranaga can't continue to win at a high clip, even in the more-competitive ACC. (The CAA was certainly closer in quality to the ACC in recent years, though, which also helps this theory.) He's a good-to-great coach; a coach that redefined what mid-majors can do when he took the Patriots to the Final Four in 2006.
At 61, Larranaga gets a significant raise, an improvement in temperature and can prepare for his life at Del Boca Vista. I can only hope he's calling up doubters, newly fellow ACC coaches and the like and channeling his inner Frank Costanza.
This ... is Jim Larranaga. You think you can keep us out of Florida? We're moving in, lock, stock and barrel. We're going to be in the pool; we're going to be in the clubhouse; we're going to be all over that shuffleboard basketball court. And I dare you to keep me out!