HOUSTON — The Great Resignation has hit the college basketball coaching ranks hard in recent years: Roy Williams hung it up at North Carolina in 2021; Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Villanova’s Jay Wright followed in ’22; Jim Boeheim was encouraged by Syracuse to join them this year.
The game was changing rapidly around them. Name, Image and Likeness rules and the transfer portal were altering the way coaches construct rosters. If the old guard didn’t like the new reality, it seemed like an opportune time to check out.
Against that backdrop, here is Jim Larrañaga, age 73, back at the Final Four for the first time in 17 years. He’s rolling along like a hotshot coach half his age, having the time of his life at Miami.
“Age is just a number,” Larrañaga said Thursday here. “I just love what I’m doing. I love coaching basketball. I’ve done it for 51 years, and I hope to do it a lot longer.”
There are no NCAA records on this, but if Larrañaga’s Hurricanes beat Florida Atlantic Saturday, he might well be the oldest coach to make the national championship game. And if Miami wins it all, he absolutely will be the oldest champion by five years (former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun currently holds that distinction).
There has been some attendant controversy, with Ruiz boasting last year on social media about an alleged $800,000, two-year deal to land point guard Nijel Pack as a transfer from Kansas State. That led to a reported snit from holdover guard Isaiah Wong, whose own NIL deal with LifeWallet was believed to be far less lucrative.
NCAA rules prohibit NIL payments as recruiting inducements, and an investigation involving Ruiz ensued. It culminated in February with a ruling that penalized Miami women’s basketball, where Ruiz had signed Haley and Hanna Cavinder to NIL deals, for impermissible contact with the twin transfers from Fresno State. Miami previously had suspended women’s coach Katie Meier for three games at the start of this season. Pack’s deal was not mentioned in any way in the ruling, though it was believed to be part of the investigation.
As part of the negotiated resolution of that case between the school and NCAA Enforcement, Ruiz was not disassociated from the Miami athletics program. This disappointed the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which stated as much when the ruling was released in late February.
“(T)he panel was troubled by the limited nature and severity of institutional penalties agreed upon by Miami and the enforcement staff—namely, the absence of a disassociation of the involved booster,” the COI wrote. “Although the parties asserted that a disassociation penalty would be inappropriate based on an impermissible meal and an impermissible contact, today’s new NIL-related environment presents a new day. Boosters are involved with prospects and student-athletes in ways the NCAA membership has never seen or encountered. In that way, addressing impermissible booster conduct is critical, and the disassociation penalty presents an effective penalty available to the COI.”
As the first NIL rainmaker to end up in the NCAA crosshairs, Ruiz lived to tell about it—and promptly responded by threatening to sue the association. If nothing else, the man is first team All-Bluster.
Larrañaga, an immediate beneficiary of the new world order, essentially shrugged and said this was a Miami decision to get onboard with NIL opportunities. He was just along for the ride.
“I think the university made a decision over a year ago to provide the resources and support for all of our athletic teams,” Larrañaga said. “And that role has turned out to be hugely successful because this guys have provided the resources for me, for Katie, for our football program, and for our other athletic teams.
“But the thing that makes me enjoy it so much is that it’s not about whether a kid transferred in or we recruited out of high school or he got an NIL deal. It’s my job to coach them and make them the best basketball team they can be.”
The ‘Canes are a pretty damn good basketball team. They were co-champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference and have had a strong tournament run—rallying to beat Drake in the first round and Texas in the regional final, and in between those games pounding Indiana and No. 1 Midwest Regional seed Houston.
This Final Four berth—the first in Miami history but the second for Larrañaga, after taking Cinderella George Mason there in 2006—is validation of the late-career renaissance for the coach. His Miami tenure started with seven straight winning seasons—the Hurricanes were an early adopter of transfers, even if they had to sit out a year — but then was derailed by a misguided and inaccurate guilt-by-association sideswipe from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Miami was “University-7” in the feds’ 2017 indictment that brought charges against 10 men. Nothing ever stuck to the Hurricanes over the course of the laborious investigation, but the program suffered through three straight losing seasons from 2018-21 as recruiting took a hit.
“With the DOJ bulls---, it took the wind out of our sails in recruiting the high school players,” former Miami assistant coach Chris Caputo says. “We didn’t have much to do with it. None of us did.
“(Larrañaga) wanted to fight it in every way. He was hurt, as someone who had been in the business for 40 years and conducted himself with integrity. He didn’t want to go out like that.”
Larrañaga fought through that three-year period and the program rebounded in a big way last season, going 26–11 and advancing to the Elite Eight. This year Miami has taken it one step further—so far.
As it stands, Larrañaga is one of just three coaches to take two different programs to their first Final Fours. The others: Forddy Anderson (Bradley and Michigan State) and Hugh Durham (Florida State and Georgia).
A man with famously bad eating habits, Larrañaga might celebrate a national title with a trip to McDonald’s. Or at least a candy bar, Caputo theorized. He would be the oldest national champion coach in NCAA Tournament history—and also, arguably, the most cutting-edge champion of them all.