Friedlander: Jim Larrañaga quietly draws up winning blueprint Miami football should follow
Miami football has spent the better part of the past 2 decades – and a lot of money on coaching buyouts and facilities – trying to get the swagger back from its golden era of the 1980s and ‘90s.
That’s golden. Not Golden, as in 1 of the 6 coaches who have come and gone since the Hurricanes joined the ACC without achieving any kind of sustained success.
Mario Cristobal is the latest to try his hand at returning the program to national relevance.
While the book is still out on how he’ll ultimately do, the shine is already off the man who returned to his alma mater something of a conquering hero. He’s replaced both coordinators and made several other changes, both to his staff and roster, since the end of a dismal 5-7 (3-5 ACC) debut in 2022.
The struggle is real. And the effort is sincere.
But maybe those in charge of Miami football have been going about things the wrong way.
Instead of going for flash, glitter and personality that are the staples of a market dominated by its beautiful people and professional sports franchises, the Hurricanes might be better off following a similar blueprint to the one drawn up by Jim Larrañaga and their much lower-profile basketball program.
Recruit players that fit well together, regardless of how many stars they have beside their name. Find a style that suits their talents and stick with it. Adapt to change by using the rules of the day to your best advantage.
It also helps when administrators have a little patience.
Granted, football is the financial engine that drives the bus of every major college athletic program and its success holds a much higher priority than that of basketball. Especially at a school like Miami.
But while a parade of coaches have been sent marching through the revolving door of the Hurricanes’ football facility – a list that includes Larry Coker, Randy Shannon, Al Golden, Mark Richt and the most recent casualty, Manny Diaz – Larrañaga was given the time to get his program back on the right track again after hitting a rough patch of his own.
Larrañaga is the winningest coach in program history with 249 victories and the 1st ACC championship in school history since coming to Coral Gables in 2011. Including his totals from American International, Bowling Green and George Mason, which he took on a surprise Final Four run in 2006, the 73-year-old New York native has amassed 719 wins.
Earlier this year, he was nominated for a place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
One of the best coaches in college basketball history, Jim Larrañaga added another line to his impressive resume yesterday: SEVEN HUNDRED WINS. pic.twitter.com/mQI9eq0egl
— Canes Men’s Basketball (@CanesHoops) November 20, 2022
“I’ve long admired his teams and how they play, the way they share,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said of Larrañaga. “There’s none of them out there any better than he is.”
That level of respect from his peers, combined with the COVID pandemic and the money already being doled out to former football coaches, probably helped save Larrañaga’s job after he suffered through 3 straight losing seasons from 2018-21.
He took advantage of the reprieve to win 26 games and advance to the NCAA’s Elite 8 last season.
His current team already has 23 wins and could be even better.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good,” Larrañaga said earlier this week when asked if he likes the way his team is trending with the postseason right around the corner. “The attention to detail, the energy level at both ends of the court.”
You wouldn’t know it from the lack of national attention the Hurricanes are getting.
Their win at Virginia Tech on Tuesday was their 7th straight, improving their record to 23-5. They’re undefeated at home, feature 1 of the most dynamic offensive talents in the country in Isaiah Wong and at 14-4, they’re a half game ahead Virginia and Pittsburgh for the league lead – making them the team to beat in the upcoming ACC Tournament.
And yet, they’re only ranked No. 13 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25.
About the only real buzz surrounding Larrañaga and his team this season was created by somebody else. And it had nothing to do with its play on the court. It came from Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who called out Miami – along with fellow ACC rivals Pittsburgh and Wake Forest – for “buying” their winning teams.
While it’s true that Wong made headlines last summer for his efforts to negotiate a better name, image and likeness deal, and shooting guard Nijel Pack was the Big 12’s Most Improved Player at Kansas State, it’s doubtful the Hurricanes had to outbid anyone for the other 2 members of their transfer class.
Undersized big man Norchad Omier is a local South Florida kid who came from Arkansas State. Glue guy Jordan Miller played 4 steady, if not spectacular seasons at George Mason.
But together with Wong and a few other holdovers, they’ve provided Larrañaga with the canvas to produce a potential masterpiece.
And a blueprint others at Miami would be wise to follow.