Jim Larranaga completed his 14th season as the head coach of the George Mason men's basketball team and he is the school and conference's all-time leader in wins. Under his leadership, the Patriots' program rose to unimagined heights including a fifth NCAA tournament appearance this past season.
When the 2005-06 men's basketball season began, Jim Larranaga was entering his ninth season at the helm of the George Mason Patriots. Already the school's all-time leader in wins, there were a few more milestones on the horizon for Larranaga, some expected, some unexpected.
In his 22nd season as a collegiate head coach, Larranaga enjoyed a magical carpet ride that saw him become the Colonial Athletic Association's all-time leader in wins and the first coach at a mid-major school to take his team to the Final Four in 27 years.
When things were finished, Larranaga led Mason to a school record in wins, the school's first-ever national ranking, George Mason's first-ever appearance in the top 10, and the school's first-ever wins over top 10 teams.
The Patriots finished the year with a 27-8 record and ranked eighth in the final USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Mason had appeared in the poll for one week earlier in the season, standing at No. 25. But NCAA tournament wins over Michigan State, No. 10 North Carolina, Wichita State and No. 2 Connecticut vaulted Mason up the poll, into the national conscience and made Larranaga a household name.
The at-large berth was the first in 20 years for a team from the CAA. Mason also became the first CAA team to make the Final Four and the No. 8 spot in the poll was the highest-ever for a CAA club. At the end of that amazing run, Larranaga received one immense personal accolade as he received the Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award.
Larranaga led the Patriots to nearly the same level of accomplishment in 2010-11, as Mason matched the school record for wins with 27 and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament including a win over Big East foe Villanova before an eventual defeat at the hands of top overall seed Ohio State. During the season, Mason embarked on a school-record 16-game winning streak, captured the CAA regular-season championship and earned a national ranking for the first time since the Final Four season. For his efforts, Larranaga was named the CAA Coach of the Year, his second such award.
Having recently concluded his 27th season, Larranaga owns a 272-164 record in 14 years at George Mason. He became the Patriots all-time leader in men's basketball victories with his 131st win on January 22, 2005 when the Patriots won 77-58 at arch-rival James Madison. He became the CAA's all-time leader in wins on February 4, 2006 when the Patriots defeated UNC Wilmington. His CAA record is 182-89.
Larranaga, 61, accomplished many of the same things in his 11 years at Bowling Green State University from 1986-97 and in two years at American International College from 1977-79. His career record stands at 470-334, earning his 400th coaching victory in Mason's 70-58 win over Delaware on February 20, 2008 and his 450th win against Loyola, a 66-52 victory on December 8, 2010.
The remarkable run at George Mason began just two years into Larranaga's tenure. A 9-18 record in his first year with the Patriots in 1997-98 drew plaudits from knowledgeable basketball people who realized the program was headed in the right direction.
George Mason was 19-11 overall and a school-best 13-3 in the CAA in 1998-99, making a 10-game improvement over the previous season. The Patriots won their first-ever conference regular season championship and their second CAA Tournament title to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The performance by the Patriots earned numerous honors for Larranaga as he was named Coach of the Year by the CAA and the NABC District 4 Coach of the Year. He also was selected state Coach of the Year by the Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
George Mason followed up with another 19-11 overall mark in 1999-2000, tying James Madison for first place in the CAA at 12-4 and earning the top seed in the conference tournament. In 2000-01, the Patriots finished 18-12 overall and 11-5 in the CAA, good for a tie for second place, and they won the CAA Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. The Patriots produced another solid campaign with a 19-10 overall record (13-5 in the CAA) and a NIT berth in 2001-02. Mason's 2002-03 roster was hampered by injuries, but managed to pull together a 16-12 record (11-7 in the CAA), and a fourth-place CAA finish.
The 2003-04 George Mason season was one for the record books. Larranaga led the Patriots to a 7-2 non-conference record and to a school-record 23-win season, as Mason finished 23-10 on the year, its first 20-or-more win campaign in 14 years. Gaining an NIT berth (the Patriots fourth postseason appearance in six years), Larranaga led Mason to two consecutive postseason victories for the first time in school history, and in the process, earned his first postseason.
Under Larranaga, the Patriots have won three CAA titles including the 2008 championship when Mason went 23-11. The Patriots have appeared in the postseason each of the past three seasons going to the NCAA Tournament in 2008, the NIT in 2009 and the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament in 2010. That's the first time in school history Mason has played in the postseason in three straight seasons.At his previous stop on the coaching circuit, Larranaga made an immediate impact upon his arrival at Bowling Green in 1986-87. The Falcons were the nation's most improved team under a first-year head coach that took over a program with a losing record, posting a 15-14 record for an eight-game improvement over the previous season. Larranaga went on to record a 170-144 mark in 11 years at Bowling Green. He was the 1997 Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year after leading Bowling Green to a 22-10 record, a conference regular season co-championship and a berth in the National Invitation Tournament. The 22 victories were the most by a Bowling Green team in 47 years and the 13 conference wins were the second-highest total in Falcon history.
Larranaga's 170 victories at Bowling Green ranked second all-time on the Falcons' coaching list and he was only the second coach to record consecutive postseason appearances. Larranaga led his squad to NIT berths in 1990 (18-11) and again in 1991 (17-13), the first time the Falcons enjoyed back-to-back postseason appearances since the early '60s. Bowling Green won better than 61 percent of its games in Larranaga's last four years, recording a 70-44 mark during that stretch. The Falcons finished fourth or better in the MAC in five of Larranaga's 11 seasons and he is among the winningest coaches in MAC history.
Larranaga received his first head coaching position in 1977 when he was named to the post at American International, a Division II program in Springfield, Mass. Taking over a team that had suffered through five consecutive losing seasons prior to his arrival, Larranaga turned AIC into a winning program in his first year and compiled a 28-25 mark in two seasons.
Larranaga's teams are known for their offensive efficiency and a frenetic defense dubbed the "Scramble." In 2000-01, the Patriots led the CAA (in conference games) in scoring for the third straight year at 72.8 points per game and were second in scoring margin, outscoring opponents by 7.9 points per contest. George Mason also led the conference in field goal percentage (.460) and turnover margin (+2.97) for the third consecutive season, led the CAA in steals (8.4) and was second in assists (13.7), and it also ranked second in assist/turnover ratio (0.96). In 2002-03, George Mason ranked second overall and 16th nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to a school record 60.5 points per game. The Patriots also listed second in the conference and 27th nationally in rebound margin (+5.2). Mason's 2003-04 squad led the league in steals at 8.52 per game.
A native of Bronx, N.Y., Larranaga is a 1971 graduate of Providence College with a degree in economics. A four-year letterman for the Friars, he was the team captain as a senior, leading Providence to a 20-8 record and an NIT appearance. He graduated as the school's fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,258 points and was selected in the sixth round of the draft by the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association. He was the team's top scorer as a sophomore and junior and was named New England's Division I Sophomore of the Year in 1969. His outstanding career was rewarded when he was inducted into the Providence College Hall of Fame in 1991.
His first coaching opportunity came at Davidson College, where he served as an assistant coach to Terry Holland. Davidson captured three Southern Conference regular-season championships and an NIT berth in his five years there, and he compiled a 47-12 record doubling as the freshman team coach. In 1976, he left Davidson and spent one season as player-coach for the Geronemo Basketball Club in Belgium.
After his two-year stint at American International, Larranaga was reunited with Holland at the University of Virginia in April 1979. An assistant coach under Holland for seven seasons from 1979-86, he helped the Cavaliers reach the NCAA Final Four on two occasions (1981 and 1984), finish in the top five of the AP and UPI polls and average more than 24 victories per season. The Cavaliers were 169-62, won three regular season Atlantic Coast Conference championships and made four NCAA Tournament appearances. Virginia also made a pair of NIT appearances, winning the NIT Championship in 1980. Larranaga was on the staff during the careers of three-time National Player of the Year Ralph Sampson and NBA first-round draft choice Olden Polynice.
Larranaga and his wife, Liz, have two children. Jay, who played for his father at Bowling Green, and Jon, who was a member of his father's George Mason teams from 1999-00 to 2002-03. He also has three grandchildren.