“When we heard he wanted the job, I thought this was an opportunity of a lifetime for the University of Miami.”
She might have been right.
At a time when the athletic department has been rocked by a scandal involving a former booster who prompted a long and still-unresolved NCAA investigation — over things that occurred long before Larranaga arrived — this men’s basketball season has clearly been a ray of light in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes’ arena was sold out for many games, bringing Shalala to tears at least once. A pair of ACC titles will be commemorated by banners. The team seems to be an in-vogue pick to win it all.
And whether he wants it or not, Larranaga — a likely national coach of the year candidate — is getting much of the credit.
That’s why, when the bus carrying the ACC champions arrived back on campus Sunday night, outside the on-campus arena and practice facility that Miami built a few years apart, Larranaga was the first to exit and start giving hundreds of high-fives to delirious, screaming fans. Players waited about a minute before joining the celebration.
“That was his moment,” said senior forward-center Kenny Kadji, who carried the trophy off the bus. “That was for him.”
Best known for leading George Mason to the Final Four in 2006, Larranaga was a hire at Miami that raised some eyebrows after Frank Haith left for Missouri in 2011.
He arrived with the school very much in a transitional phase, with a change imminent in the athletic director’s office, the news of the NCAA scandal about to hit and only a few months after Al Golden was hired to lead the football program. By the time Larranaga even registered a blip on Miami’s potential-hire list, the Hurricanes had interviewed five other people and the consensus pick was that Frank Martin — a Miami native — would get the job.