A Coach Finds Himself Where His Dreams Came True

Providence was tempting, but the prospect of leaving the school he had taken on a magical Final Four run was too much for Jim Larranaga.
Providence was tempting, but the prospect of leaving the school he had taken on a magical Final Four run was too much for Jim Larranaga. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By John Feinstein
Friday, April 4, 2008

SAN ANTONIO Jim Larranaga has always been someone who writes things down: goals, plans, things to remember, statistics, memorable things he has heard people say.

It was, he believes, at least 25 years ago that he wrote this down: "I want to be the head coach at Providence College someday."

At the time, he was an assistant coach under Terry Holland at Virginia. He had played under Dave Gavitt at Providence, graduating in 1971. He wanted to be a Division I head coach someplace, but in his dreams, that place was Providence.

In 1985, the chance came. Joe Mullaney retired from the school, and Providence Athletic Director Lou Lamoriello asked Larranaga to fly to New York to discuss the job with him.

"Lou said he thought I did a great job with the interview," Larranaga said Thursday afternoon. "But his concern was that I'd never been a Division I head coach."

Lamoriello ended up hiring Rick Pitino.

"You certainly can't knock that hire," Larranaga said. "He took them to the Final Four."

Even though he understood Pitino's hiring, Larranaga vowed he would be better prepared the next time the chance to coach Providence came up again.

"Little did I know it would be 23 years later," he said. "A lot had changed."

That's putting it mildly. Larranaga was no longer a 35-year-old assistant coach looking for his first chance. He was a coach with 22 years of Division I head coaching experience and a trip to the Final Four under his belt. He had been at George Mason for 11 years and had become a campus icon. Several weeks ago, when a faculty member named Lou Bufaro was in intensive care at a local hospital, Larranaga and his wife, Liz, went to visit him. They weren't allowed in because they weren't relatives, but they did get to see Bufaro's wife and kids.

Mrs. Bufaro said to Larranaga, "Now Lou has to live if only so I can tell him that you came to see him."

In fact, so much had changed since 1985 that when the Rev. Brian Shanley, Providence's president, offered him the job this past Sunday, Larranaga turned it down. It was, without question, the most complicated decision he has made in his professional life.


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