By now, the departure of Jim Larannaga from George Mason University has been dissected from every angle imaginable. Which is impressive, because the news that Coach L was leaving Fairfax for the University of Miami broke just last Thursday. By Friday evening, the winningest coach in school and conference history was being announced as the Hurricanes new head coach, ending a 14 year run at Mason that saw the program climb to unseen heights, highlighted of course by their epic Final Four run of 2006.
But what really happened? Why did Larranaga leave the school he called his dream job three years ago when turning down his alma mater Providence to stay at the Colonial Athletic Association powerhouse?
Opinions and theories abound, and there are fervent supporters of each. Did Shaka Smart's pay raise to $1.2 million a year at VCU cause Larranaga to demand the same sort of increase? Was the coach truly excited about the opportunity to coach in a power conference like the ACC and prove his mettle above the mid major level? (I'm not calling the coach *ahem* disingenuous, but let's just say I don't always buy his public persona). Did Larranaga and George Mason A.D. Tom O'Connor have a strained relationship that fueled this surprise breakup?
Well, to be honest, the answers to those questions vary greatly depending on who you ask, so I'll tell you what I think. Very simply, in my humble opinion, Jim Larranaga leaving George Mason for The U was an employee/employer relationship dissolving.
This is something that happens in everyday life to everyday people. But sometimes as sports fans, we forget "Division 1 Mens College Basketball Coach" is a job, just like "Marketing Drone Who Sits In a Cube." Larranaga probably wanted more from his job, be it money for himself, money for his assistants or quicker completion of the school's athletic facilities. His employer probably felt they offered a fair compensation package, within their organizational structure, and presented it as so. Ultimately, the employee felt it was time to take a better job elsewhere, for whatever the reasons. This isn't the first time this happened in the history of employment, nor is it the last.
And it most certainly is not the most entertaining. Here are some better ones:
- I seem to remember a similar long and successful run for Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, one that no one saw ending so suddenly either. I mean, at least Larranaga didn't throw Tom O'Connor down the reactor shaft of the Death Star.
- While we're on the sci-fi kick, Robocop did a damn good job maintaining Old Detroit, only to have his employer (OCP) and boss (Dick Jones) decide his services were no longer valued the way they were in the past. Larranaga/O'Connor didn't end nearly as violently as that one, riiiiight?
- Perhaps a better example would be Coach L in the role of Clark Griswold, waiting on the Christmas bonus to buy his assistants a new pool. Tom O'Connor delivered him a fruitcake last Friday morning. I'm chuckling right now imaging Larranaga delivering Clark's epic monologue when he saw GMU and O'Connor's offer.
- Last one, I promise: Larranaga could've grabbed his stapler and torched IniTech Milton Waddams-style on his way to the beach, but it appears he left the Fairfax campus is pretty nice condition as he high-tailed it out of town.
OK, all the nonsense above aside, the truth of the matter is this saga is over and done with. Honestly, everybody wins in the long run. Larranaga gets to head off to Miami, seemingly happy about his choice to lead the Hurricanes' basketball program out of ACC obscurity. George Mason gets to hire an up-and-coming young coach to lead a team entering next season with high expectations (rightfully so). The ending of this saga is a win-win for all involved, something you can't always say about the termination of most boss/employee relationships.