It Started with a Miracle (sort of)
What I like to call the real “Miracle in Miami” started on April 4th, 2011 when Missouri made a surprise move in hiring Miami head coach Frank Haith to replace Mike Anderson who earlier took the Arkansas job. After 7 years at Miami, Haith had an underwhelming resume, going 43-69 in the ACC and making only one NCAA tournament, losing in the second round in 2008. Haith, who had been on the hot seat, may have sensed something bad was about to happen and jumped at the Mizzou offer. 4 months later an NCAA investigation surfaced surrounding the school’s ties to Ponzi schemer, Nevin Shapiro.
The Arrival of L
Shortly after Haith’s departure a search was launched for his replacement. By some accounts, Jim Larrañaga was not on the initial candidate list but he did have a connection to UM. Jose Mas, whom Larrañaga had met at a Michael Jordan fantasy camp, was a booster of Miami athletics and a prominent local businessman. Mas, mentioned the job to Larrañaga and told him he should send his resume to Miami’s athletic director. As legend has it, Larrañaga was traveling and had no access to his resume so, he sent a copy of his Wikipedia page to UM. Coach L, as he is affectionately called, was hired soon after on April 22nd.
The Canes got lucky twice in the span of 18 days but that luck would change when the Shapiro scandal broke. During the 2011-12 season, his first at the helm, players were suspended games related to the scandal. Despite this, he coached the Canes to a 20-13 record and it’s first ever winning record in the ACC finishing 9-7 in league play. While Miami narrowly missed making the NCAA tournament (first 4 out according to the committee) they did go to the NIT.
Something Magical Happened on the Way to Greensboro
The following season, with a team built on Haith leftovers and transfers, led by then sophomore, Shane Larkin, Coach L guided Miami to not only a first place finish in the ACC conference but also won it’s first ever ACC tournament championship. Miami would end the 2012-13 season with a 29-7 record (15-3 in the ACC) and made the Sweet 16. If it were not for the stomach bug and injuries, the Canes might have gone even further.
What makes this even more remarkable is that this accomplishment happened while the UM athletic department was still under the cloud of the Shapiro scandal. CanesHoops would end up losing 3 scholarships yet Larrañaga and staff were still able to recruit quality talent and lure top transfers like Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan and Kamari Murphy who helped guide the Canes to the NIT finals (Murphy was sitting out per transfer rules) in 2014-15 and another Sweet 16 appearance in 2015-16 after finishing 13-5 in the ACC. The Canes would get back to back NCAA tournament invites last year but made a first round exit after losing to Michigan State.
Just Keep Winning
The bi-product of producing a winning basketball team is that for the past two seasons, the Canes have sold out its season tickets and is likely to make it 3 straight this year. With what many in the media believes to be Miami’s most talented team ever, Coach Larrañaga has the Miami Hurricanes poised to make a deep run this season despite another cloud moving over Coral Gables (Miami is ranked 13 in the pre-season AP poll). This time an FBI investigation into the shady underworld of college hoops, agents, runners and high school coaches and AAU programs.
This topic has been discussed to exhaustion so we won’t go into it again but it is this writer’s opinion that Coach Larrañaga was not involved despite some shady people saying he was. In talking to people and coaches that know Coach L there is one unanimous conclusion: Larrañaga is one of the most ethical and straight laced people in the profession. A high school coach who dealt with Coach L during the recruitment of one of his former players told me that he recruited this player “with the utmost integrity” and “ L would never get involved with that. Never.” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told the Miami Herald today “I don't believe for one second Jim Larranaga has done anything wrong,” Bilas said. “I would have to be shown some convincing evidence to believe otherwise. I find it very unusual that a U.S. attorney would have a press conference over charges being filed in college sports. I found it really distasteful. This is not charges brought against the Gambino crime family or a drug cartel. After a two year federal investigation that included cooperating witnesses and wiretaps, the fact there isn't enough evidence to charge anyone at Miami and Louisville is telling.”
Larrañaga in his 30 plus years as a head college coach has won at the highest levels without a single McDonald’s All-American (until the arrival of Dewan Huell last season). He took mid-major George Mason to the Final Four, he took a patchwork Miami team to an ACC championship in his second year, three NCAA appearances and two Sweet Sixteens in six years. All of this with less than the “blue bloods.” It wasn’t done by paying players, it was done one way…the right way, with a coach who knows how to do more with less.
This too shall pass but for now Miami Hurricanes basketball is on the cusp of greatness despite overcast skies.