For the past five days, rumors had swirled regarding George Mason head coach and PC alum Jim Larranaga, regarding the Friars' head coaching vacancy. George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor confirmed over the weekend that he had been approached by PC for permission to speak with Larranaga and O'Connor had granted that permission. From there, the fact that PC was negotiating with the Class of '71 alum was public knowledge.
In fact, Larranaga met with Father Shanley in Washington, DC, on Sunday, as negotiations continued. As of Tuesday afternoon, sources indicated that the talks were going well and the possibility of an agreement might be imminent. Then Larranaga returned home to Virginia to mull over the offer, and things began to unravel for Providence.
At about 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon, Larranaga reached his decision and made it known to PC. Athletic director Driscoll released the following statement: "Over the last several days it became public knowledge that we were in discussions with George Mason Head Coach Jim Larranaga about becoming our men's basketball coach," Driscoll said. "We offered him a very substantial package but he was too comfortable in his current situation and opted to stay at George Mason. As a result, I will continue to have ongoing discussions with the other finalists in this search. I remain very optimistic that we will find a head coach who will embrace the rich tradition of Friar basketball and move the program forward."
Later Wednesday afternoon, George Mason signed their coach to a three-year extension, and Larranaga had this to say: "I've made it clear over the years that my family and I have loved it here at George Mason," said Larranaga. "I feel very fortunate to work under the great leadership of President Merten and Tom O'Connor. I feel very connected to both the George Mason and the greater Fairfax County communities. We have enjoyed their great support and it continues to grow. I've said before that I hope to retire here at George Mason and this contract extension allows me to do just that."
So, what now for the Friars, spurned by a coach who they felt would come home to finish his career? The answer is unclear. Some coaches originally under consideration, like Jim Christian, have moved on. Other coaches rumored to be interested, like Jeff Van Gundy and Phil Martelli, seem to be out of the mix, rumored to be uninterested in the job.,, but both are well worth another phone call.
With Larranaga out of the picture, Bob Driscoll and company have their work cut out for them. The national perception of the Providence job is that it's a difficult one. PC fans do not want to hear that though, and have vilified anyone expressing that sentiment. Is the truth of the Providence job coming to fruition with this hire? Did Jim Larranaga figure that life would be a whole lot less complicated and stress free by staying at George Mason, rather than taking a chance to move to a higher level of competition and try to win – consistently – at his alma mater? We'll never know for sure.
You can win at Providence. That's a proven truth. It's hard. That's a proven truth, too. It takes a special coach with special traits, including stamina, determination, desire, great recruiting ability and the skills to game plan and coach. That's a tough package that's not always available, but that's the job description. Here is an updated list of coaching possibilities for the Friars.
Coaches Under Consideration (listed alphabetically):
Head Coach, Wright State (2006-present) UNC-Wilmington (2002-2006)
Background: DOB 11/15/68 Evansville, Indiana
Brad Brownell has quietly put together an accomplished resume for himself as a head coach. In only six years as a head coach, Brownell has three NCAA tournament appearances to his credit. As a former assistant to coach Jerry Wainwright UNC Wilmington, the two coaches together reached the NCAA tournament 4 times. Brownell was promoted to head coach when Wainwright moved on to Richmond. Brownell had continued success at Wilmington as a head coach, and was named CAA Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2006. In his four years at Wilmington, he did not have a single losing season, and made the NCAA's twice in both 2003 and 2006. Brownell parlayed his success into being named head coach at Wright State in 2006, and immediately guided his team to the program's first Horizon League Championship, defeating nationally ranked Butler in the process. Similar to his mentor Wainwright, Brownell's teams are known for their tough defense and fundamentally sound play.
Pros: A coach who has a record of making the NCAA tournament and who stresses defense. He is also relatively young and looking to move of a higher profile job.
Cons: Brownell is a midwestern guy currently coaching in place where he is comfortable. It's unclear if he will be willing to work in the northeast. Would his teams score enough to compete in the Big East?
Head Coach, Drake (2007-present)
Background: DOB 1973 – Massachusetts
National college coach of the year by both the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and The Sporting News magazine
Keno Davis is in his first year as a collegiate head coach after spending five years as an assistant under his father, Dr. Tom Davis, at Drake. Prior to that, Davis was an assistant for six years at Southeast Missouri State and for two years at Southern Indiana under Bruce Pearl. Keno has guided Drake to a 28-5 record this season and a first round loss against Western Kentucky in the NCAAs. The Bulldogs play a fundamentally sound, superb passing offense and apply tough pressure defense, in making their first NCAA appearance since 1971.
Pros: A New England native, Davis might want to come home. Tutored by great basketball minds, his team plays an unselfish, fun style of team ball.
Cons: With only one year of head coaching experience, there isn't a big track record to look at. Can he recruit at the highest level in the East after spending his college career in the Midwest?
UPDATE: There has been little to no mention of Davis since the PC job opened. However, all of a sudden, Keno Davis looks more and more like an attractive candidate, should PC opt to look in his direction.
Head Coach, UMASS (2005-present) Eastern Kentucky (2000-2005)
Background: DOB 12/29/69 Madisonville, Kentucky
Travis Ford is coach who models himself after Rick Pitino, his coach at the University of Kentucky. Ford had success as a point guard his junior and senior years under Pitino, being named to the All-SEC team twice, and was recognized as the NCAA Southeast Region MVP in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. As a young coach, Ford spent time a NAIA Campbellsville U. and later at Eastern Kentucky where his team reached the NCAA tournament in 2005. With that success, he was named head coach at UMass in 2005. At Umass, his team shared the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title with Xavier in 2007, going 13-3. Ford's Umass teams have made the NIT twice, including a birth in the NIT final in 2008. In terms of play, Ford's team plays an up tempo style, which focuses on transition basketball and the use of the 3 point shot. He often will employ traps and full court pressure on the defensive end, but he is considered an offensive minded coach. In 2007, Ford was granted a contract extension that takes him through the 2014-2015 season.
Pros: A disciple of sorts of Rick Pitino, he may be encouraged by his former coach to pursue the Providence job. His teams play at a fast pace and score a lot, which provides an entertaining style of basketball.
Cons: He is a southern man through and through, and is expected to return to his roots one day. His is rumored to be the top candidate for the LSU job. Also, his teams are not known for their defense, and how long will he stay?.
Head Coach, Siena (2005-present)
Backgound: DOB 5/23/1959 – Philadelphia, PA
McCaffery certainly raised his stature with Siena's upset of Vanderbilt in the NCAA Tournament this season before a loss to Villanova. The 13th seeded Saints finished 23-11, McCaffery's best showing yet at the school. Prior to Siena, McCaffery spent six years at UNC-Greensboro, where he went 90-87 and enjoyed several postseason appearances. Before that, he spent 11 years on the staffs of Digger Phelps and John MacLeod at Notre Dame. And prior to that, he was the nation's youngest Division I head coach while at Lehigh for three seasons. Known for his fundamentally sound style of play, McCaffery is a calm figure on the sideline but a superb tactician.
Pros: His teams play solid defense, and run a systematic, patterned offense. Siena has upset several more highly regarded squads under his tutelage, get better as the year goes on and he has solid recruiting ties in the Northeast.
Cons: Has spent the last ten years at relatively low profile, low pressure jobs, compiling a rather unimpressive record. Is he ready for the big jump up to the Big East and can he establish a consistent, winning program there?
Head Coach, Davidson (1989-Present)
Background: DOB 1949 – Long Island, New York
SoCon Coach of the Year (1994, 1996, 1997, 2002, 2005, 2008)
Bob McKillop is one of the most unassuming coaches in America. He has never been a self promoter, but since Davidson joined the Southern Conference in 1992, McKillop's teams have won the Southern Conference Championship on multiple occasions, taking small but prestigious Davidson College to the NCAA tournament five times in that period.(4 in the last seven years) He's also led Davidson to three NIT appearences. While Bob McKillop grew up a New York basketball player, he's become a respected fixture in North Carolina over the years; first as a college athlete at East Carolina, and now as the Head Coach at Davidson. In the past two seasons, McKillop's Davidson Wildcats have only lost 1 conference game. McKillop's teams are known for their preparation and attention to detail, as he is known for stressing fundamentals and team discipline. As a result, Davidson has often played the role of giant killer, knocking off more talented non-conference opponents from major conferences.
Pros: Excellent strategist and bench coach. A New York guy, his teams play great team ball and he knows how to build a program.
Cons: Like Larranaga, he's 58 and has been at Davidson for 18 years. Does he have the energy to compete in the Big East?
UPDATE: McKillop's Davidson squad has become the Cinderella story of the NCAA Tournament and lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight. If he's under consideration, he'd be a dynamite candidate, but would McKillop consider leaving Davidson or is his heart forever tied to North Carolina? The feeling here is that McKillop, a close friend of Larranaga's, might be the current top choice, but we wonder just how difficult he would be to move.
Head Coach, Ohio University (2001-present)
Background: DOB 1962 – Wayland, Massachusetts
O'Shea arrived in Athens from Boston College, where he spent four seasons at his alma mater under Al Skinner. He moved to BC from URI with Skinner, where he was Skinner's top recruiter for nine seasons. Ohio was named College Basketball's "It" Team in 2005 by Espn.com, and the Bobcats have enjoyed steady success under O'Shea's tutelage. This season, Ohio compiled a 20-13 record and won a game in the inaugural CBI Tournament. Ohio's top season under O'Shea was the 2004-05 campaign, which saw a NCAA run, but the Bobcats have been postseason contenders on an annual basis. O'Shea has always played an Al Skinner-type of motion offense, along with tough man to man defense.
Pros: After serving under Skinner for 13 years, O'Shea knows how to win, play a style and run a program. Has great contacts in New England and can spot under the radar players.
Cons: Like Christian, would not be a sexy hire, but Christian had surpassed him in the MAC. Has been a bit up and down at Ohio.
UPDATE: O'Shea's Ohio team lost in the second round of the CBI, and his name has been conspicuously absent from the rumor mill since the PC job opened. Another longshot at this point, but he's a coach who could quickly enter the mix now that the mix has been muddied.
Head Coach, Brown University (2006-present)
Background: DOB 1971 – Chicago, Ill
Robinson has guided Brown to the inaugural CBI Tournament in just his second year as coach. The 19-10 Bears established a school record for victories in a season and have a chance to win 20 for the first time in their 103 years playing the sport. Robinson came to Brown from Northwestern, where he spent six years under Bill Carmody, and played his collegiate ball at Princeton under Pete Carril. He's spent some time in the national limelight as Barack Obama's brother-in-law, and runs the same system on offense and defense as fellow Princeton grad, John Thompson III of Georgetown, with backdoor cuts and patterned offense.
Pros: If you like the way Georgetown plays, you'll like Robinson. Could be JT III before JT III was JT III. Has elevated Brown in a short time to Ivy contenders. Great pedigree.
Cons: Not a lot of experience and as a result, not much of a track record to examine. Would be a high risk hire.
UPDATE: Robinson has been mentioned in the press a few times, most notably in a recent column in the Providence Journal by Bill Reynolds. He's local, a chic pick by some, but he remains a very risky hire. Still, he's going to be a fine coach for someone at some point… it may just be that this opening at Providence came up about two seasons too soon for Robinson… ordinarily. With Larranaga out of the picture, it would be very easy – and quick - to hop across town and try to nab Robinson. Don't be surprised if his name surfaces at some point.
There are other possibilities. Some media are mentioning Kevin O'Neill. O'Neill filled in for Lute Olson at Arizona this season, and the talented Wildcats definitely underachieved. He has had a history of mediocre accomplishments and a reputation for being difficult to deal with. We'll leave him off our list for now… but be aware that he is being mentioned.
The ghost of Jim O'Brien hovers over the process, as well, but we'll say that a number of candidates would have to fall by the wayside before O'Brien receives serious consideration. Still, the name is alive. And what about a couple of Atlantic-10 coaches that no one has mentioned much – Brian Gregory of Dayton and Chris Mooney of Richmond? Both have done nice jobs at their schools and both might be looking for a move up in level. Do the Friars look for a hot assistant or a young coach like Kevin Willard at Iona?
So, the opening is now wide open, and who the favorites are at this point, only Bob Driscoll knows. PC should never settle, and after five losing seasons in the last ten years, this is an absolutely critical hire… the question is, who is realistically available that best fits the job description? Should be an interesting week ahead, as the sting of rejection fades and new leading candidates emerge.
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