George Mason Coach Larranaga Signs a 3-Year Extension

jim larranaga - george mason university
"When you find a place where you're very happy, you don't want to gamble that happiness on something you don't know will be good," said GMU coach Jim Larranaga. (John McDonnell - The Post)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006

A month after leading the George Mason men's basketball team to the Final Four, Coach Jim Larranaga signed a three-year contract extension yesterday that runs through the 2011-12 season. Terms were not disclosed, although the extension was believed to include a significant pay raise.

"I say this over and over again and it's very, very much the truth: I've really enjoyed working at George Mason since the day I arrived, and I never really felt any urgency or need to work anyplace else," Larranaga said. "When you find a place where you're very happy, you don't want to gamble that happiness on something you don't know will be good. So I'm very, very happy knowing that not only have I enjoyed these last nine years, but I get a chance to enjoy the next six as well."

After Larranaga's unique brand of whimsical motivation helped the Patriots earn the first four NCAA tournament wins in school history, his name became fodder for several high-profile job openings this month. Seton Hall received permission to discuss its opening with Larranaga, but the 56-year-old told Seton Hall officials he was not interested in the job. He also was contacted by several headhunters during the NCAA tournament, but said he did not want to be distracted and turned them away without asking which schools they represented.

"It's flattering, but in terms of how it affects me, it's almost no effect at all," he said of his increased profile. "It's nice that people would consider you or mention you, that other people would suggest that you would be a good candidate. But the fact of the matter is I spend most of my time each day just doing what I do, doing my job, concentrating on how I can make George Mason better."

Larranaga has long maintained that he would be happy to retire from the Fairfax school, where he has spent the past nine seasons, becoming the most successful coach in Colonial Athletic Association history. His youngest son, Jon, lives in the District and his oldest son, Jay, lives a short drive away from his parents in Fairfax County during the summers.

Larranaga had started negotiating a contract extension with George Mason before the CAA tournament.

"We recognized that we had a good coach and we wanted to keep a good coach even before we started on that journey," Athletic Director Tom O'Connor said. "Nothing's changed from my standpoint. We knew we had a very good coach building a program, not just hit-or-miss teams. And when you have good people, you want to keep good people."

Larranaga's base salary in fiscal year 2005-06 was $196,796, according to an open records request, although his total compensation, including bonuses and income from his summer camp, was significantly more. The team's three assistant coaches made a total of just over $152,000 in base salary this year, sixth highest of the CAA's eight public schools, according to open records requests. O'Connor said all three assistants have since received raises. The school plans to hire its first full-time salaried director of basketball operations before next season.

George Mason administrators have also explored initiatives to capitalize on the team's success, several of which were planned before this year's breakthrough. O'Connor said the school is carrying out an aggressive fundraising and naming rights campaign for a $5 million to $6 million practice facility that will include a practice court, locker rooms, a weight room, an academic center, offices and a reception area. The school hopes to install a video scoreboard by the 2007-08 season, and is in preliminary talks to expand its radio and television exposure.

The Patriots already have home games scheduled against Wichita State (Nov. 18) and Mississippi State (Dec. 30). Officials are in scheduling discussions with schools from the Big East, ACC and Pacific-10, and have heard from representatives of several preseason and midseason tournaments.

"Our schedule is going to be awesome," Larranaga said. "Right now it's still very much in the development stages, but there's no question that whomever we play, this will be the best schedule in George Mason history."

The Patriots also have signed an impressive recruiting class, including high-scoring guard Andre Smith, a National Junior College Athletic Association first-team all-American. And Larranaga has been in high demand as a speaker since the tournament run. He recently signed with the Washington Speakers Bureau, whose clients include a host of well-known political figures and media members along with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Louisville's Rick Pitino and the Miami Heat's Pat Riley.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company