The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chris Caputo’s DMV ties made him a perfect fit at George Washington

Chris Caputo takes over as head coach of the George Washington men's basketball team. (Jess Rapfogel for The Washington Post)

While other high school basketball players dreamed of playing in the NBA, Chris Caputo dreamed of being a college head coach while growing up in New York during the 1990s.

“[I] fell in love with college basketball, and I kind of realized I wasn’t going to be a guy who was a professional player,” said Caputo, who played for Archbishop Molloy High School and legendary coach Jack Curran. “I really looked up to my high school coach and in turn started to learn more about college coaches like the Mike Krzyzewskis, Dean Smiths, Lou Carneseccas. I just was very attracted to the profession in terms of the impact you can make on young people.”

Caputo’s path toward a head coaching opportunity began at George Mason under current Miami coach Jim Larrañaga. He was an assistant for the Patriots for six seasons, aiding in their 2006 run to the Final Four along with two other NCAA tournament appearances. Now back in the D.C. area after 11 years at Miami, Caputo is ready to attack his first head coaching opportunity at George Washington.

“He’s a great guy, came in with a lot of knowledge. He just came off an Elite Eight run with Miami, well respected, and we know that he knows how to win,” senior guard James Bishop IV said. “All the guys really bought into what he’s trying to do, how he wants us to play.”

When Caputo realized his aspirations for coaching, he was relentless in his pursuit of opportunities. While attending Westfield State University, he met Larrañaga, a fellow New Yorker and Archbishop Molloy graduate, at a high school all-star game in Connecticut. Caputo did everything in his power to end up on Larrañaga’s staff.

“I gave him my email address and said, ‘Stay in touch.’ I thought that would probably be the end of it, but he started emailing me almost on a daily basis,” Larrañaga said. “He did that — I don’t know if it was throughout his junior and senior year or just his senior year, but it was a long time.”

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Despite Caputo’s campaigning, Larrañaga chose a different candidate when an assistant coach position opened at George Mason. However, Caputo’s persistence was validated when Larrañaga offered him a volunteer position, which he immediately pounced on. For three years, he learned the nuances of coaching at a Division I program and impressed enough to be promoted to a full-time assistant role in 2005. Caputo would remain on Larrañaga’s staff for almost 20 years, including the move from George Mason to Miami in 2011.

“I’ve always felt like passion is a great characteristic — that you love what you’re doing and how you’re doing it and you have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish. And that Chris clearly portrayed,” Larrañaga said. “He was very passionate, and he wanted to be a coach.”

Caputo’s ability to network and recruit, especially in a metropolitan hub such as Washington, was intriguing to Larrañaga. Establishing and maintaining contacts throughout the D.C. area, Caputo was able to provide the rest of the staff with critical details for recruiting. That included creating and planning camps for elite players to visit George Mason, giving coaches face time with some of the best local players.

“Chris is the best networker I’ve ever been around. But he knows more people than anybody I know. And he stays in touch with more people than anybody I know,” Larrañaga said. “We had a great network of people providing us with information, and Chris was a major player in producing that network.”

When Caputo headed to Miami with Larrañaga, he brought the same passion and intensity that allowed him to thrive at George Mason. However, the coaching staff faced a daunting task in the jump from the Colonial Athletic Association to the ACC. During his tenure at Miami, the Hurricanes made five NCAA tournament appearances, claimed one conference championship and won 226 games.

“He was really learning the business of coaching. He was expanding his knowledge and also becoming very passionate about the X-and-O part of the game,” Larrañaga said of Caputo’s time in Miami. “He also was developing his own coaching style. He’s got a lot of experience offensively because he’s done a lot with me. He’s got a lot of experience defensively because he was the scout team coordinator and defensive coordinator.”

With Miami beginning to achieve more consistent success, paired with his personal development as a coach, Caputo had no plans of leaving South Beach.

“I had different opportunities throughout the years, but I was also very, very happy in Miami,” Caputo said. “I loved working for Coach Larrañaga. I loved the staff. I loved being a part of the success that we were enjoying. For me to leave, it was going to have to take something very special.”

That something very special would take the form of an opportunity to be the coach at George Washington. Leading the Colonials would allow Caputo to return to the D.C. area, where he got his start and established his expansive network of recruiting contacts. After some deliberation, that familiarity allowed Caputo to accept the offer and take the leap of faith into an opportunity 20 years in the making.

“[Larrañaga] said: ‘Hey, look, you got to bet on yourself, and this is a great opportunity. It’s probably the best head coaching job one of my assistants has gotten right from being an assistant coach,’ ” Caputo said. “I was excited to take what I’ve learned all these years and try to implement it as a head coach.”

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Caputo joins a Colonials program that has not finished with a record above .500 since 2016-17. He is aware of the challenge at hand but is eager for the responsibility it brings.

“I think I’m almost looking forward to trying to build a sustainable, successful program at George Washington,” Caputo said. “I judge things in long horizons.”

As Caputo finally embarks on the journey he has been chasing since his days at Archbishop Molloy, Larrañaga is confident his mentee will succeed.

“He’s very direct, and [players] are very receptive to his form of communication. He’s very typical of New York guys — there’s not a lot of baloney,” Larrañaga said. “He’s very well prepared to be a tremendous head coach.”