There are many, many reasons to feel jaded as a fan of men’s college basketball. It’s hard to even know where to start. HBO did a great documentary about how rampant cheating is, and one of the coaches literally caught cheating in said documentary is — you guessed it folks — still a college basketball head coach.
The unfortunate truth is being a not-so-great human often seems like a feature rather than a bug when it comes to coaching college sports. Plenty have the disposition that they were sentenced to the job rather than hired. And there are plenty of purported "legends" who give off a palpable “yells at waiter during the meal then doesn’t tip anything” vibe.
But then there’s Jim Larrañaga, the 73-year-old head coach of the Miami Hurricanes who's essentially impossible to not love.
He’s boisterous, genuine, and like any college coach worth his salt, a very willing dancer:
And granted that performance might not impress you, but it is a clear and obvious improvement over previous efforts, which — as a passionate non-dancer — I admire.
Larrañaga sits 35th all-time in wins, ahead of legendary coaches such as Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, and even John Wooden. He’s the all-time winningest coach in Colonial Athletic Conference history and led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. That brought him to Miami — a program that was essentially devoid of any notable basketball accomplishments until he arrived — where he led the Hurricanes to their first 25-win season (multiple), Sweet 16 (multiple), Elite Eight (multiple), and now Final Four.
Most college basketball fans — myself included — weren’t aware of exactly how successful Larrañaga has been. Despite his accolades, he’s never coached for a true blueblood program. When he took over Miami, it was arguably the least respected job in the ACC. Now (admittedly with an assist from some weird crypto billionaire NIL bros) Miami appears to be a consistent ACC power now, and into the future.
Given that Larrañaga has spent his career coaching against — and often beating — teams with superior resources, it's nice to see him show out with the shoe on the other foot.
The Hurricanes, even in their good years under Larrañaga, have felt like always a bridesmaid in the ACC. Competing with programs like Duke and UNC on a recurring basis makes it very easy to overlook the Canes.
But this season has been different.
Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack and Isaiah Wong form one of the best backcourts in the country and have led the traditionally stingy Hurricanes to become a top-5 offense in the country. In the Elite Eight against Texas, they were down by double digits with less than eight minutes remaining and came roaring back to win 88-81. In fact, the Hurricanes have come back in every game they’ve played in this tournament.
If you get a chance to check out one of Jim’s pre-game speeches, you’ll probably understand why they don’t quit:
He just has this vibe of a grandpa you don’t want to disappoint, right?
ACC basketball has seen some pretty massive names depart the sport in recent years: Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and, of course, Coach K.
Most of these coaches saw their careers end with somewhat of a thud — it always felt like outside noise had a heavy influence.
This is a sport where it's very rare for a coach, particularly one who seems like a fun, decent person, to leave on good terms. If you told anyone 5-to-10 years ago that an ACC coach above the age of 70 had a chance to go out winning a national championship, nobody — not one person — would assume that coach is Jim Larrañaga.
For years, all he’s done is operate in relative silence. He develops players, turns around programs and he wins games. He’s been doing it for decades. And now, with just two more wins, he can have his legacy cemented forever, alongside all the great programs that never gave him a chance to coach there.
Even if you have no stakes or interest in this Final Four, that still feels worth rooting for.