Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Small Minds…

I like Jim Larranaga. I think Jim Larranaga is an above average college basketball coach. I also think Jim Larranaga was the perfect coach for that 2006 team and that 2006 situation.

Every now and again, when you have the benefit of hindsight, you see that certain events seem to line up just as they should. People are put in situations and almost dared to succeed, because fate or karma or luck has given them the tools to accomplish great things. It’s always refreshing to see those opportunities pan out. In our mid major college basketball world, we saw it again this year with Davidson.

That said, it wouldn’t have signaled Armageddon had Larranaga chosen to head to Providence instead of hanging around Fairfax. It might’ve even been a good thing for George Mason.

This isn’t an attack on a CAA icon. Larranaga is the conference’s all time winningest coach for a reason, and it isn’t a matter of longevity. Jim Larranaga doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody, as he has an entire career chock full of success to do the proving. Dude knows his stuff. In fact, this really has nothing to do with Jim Larranaga. Rather, it’s about an opportunity for George Mason University basketball that didn’t materialize.

The “situation” at George Mason is among the best in the CAA. The Patriots win, are annually among the leaders in attendance, have administrators (Tom’OConnor and president Dr. Alan Merten) that understand the role of athletics, play in above average facilities, and continue to reap the benefits of the Final Four run. In short, the head coaching job at Mason is attractive. Traffic on the roads that lead to the school will be even worse–if that’s possible–because coaches will line up to replace Larranaga.

But I wonder if the school didn’t miss an opportunity to use 2006 as a vault, a vector, to bounce to new heights. I freely admit that “miss an opportunity” is probably the wrong language, because Jim Larranaga remaining at George Mason is a good thing. Mainly the wonder extends from the thought process about what could happen in Fairfax if someone came in there with a fresh perspective, new energy, and an approach unencumbered by the strings that go with the Final Four run.

Right now, the Final Four run is used as a starting point and everything proceeds in a straight line from that point. Larranaga is the constant in the equation. Yes, I know Larranaga is among the most passionate coaches. I know people in Fairfax love Larranaga.

But there is this, a simple fact that carries far more weight when you get past surface consideration: No matter what Jim Larranaga does for the rest of his career, he cannot untie himself from 2006. And while there are so many positives that go with that, there are pitfalls. Frustrations. There are realities of time and distance.

Imagine Monte Ross, with all his enthusiasm and passion and smarts, being hired at Mason. Ross would walk in with the endemic benefit of picking from the positives of the Final Four run. It’s not a story that begins with 2006 and moves forward, as Larranaga is forced to do (even if he doesn’t like it). It’s a story of the new coach  beginning with his Day One. The Final Four run is George Mason University, and that’s what would be used as the baseline.

At VCU, Jeff Capel won a lot of basketball games. He took his teams to an NCAA and NIT. What’s more, Capel energized a basketball program that was searching for its identity. Capel was rightfully revered in Richmond for what he accomplished. And when he left, there were questions about what would happen.

Anthony Grant, whose style and demeanor will never be confused with Capel, has taken that foundation and moved it to astounding, unprecedented heights. Put another way: one reason James Madison fans are so excited about Matt Brady is because of the foundation set by Dean Keener. Brady has a chance to capitalize on what is there that Keener never could have.

It’s like Emerson said: “every hero becomes a bore.” No, Larranaga is not a bore. But eventually the sheen is going to wear off and the benefits of the Final Four run are going to prove–in a forward-thinking sense–themselves extremely mechanical.

Attendance leveled off last season for Mason. I don’t know if we’re looking at the hazy line between an event being a part of you and the event being a part of history. Many times we drift back and forth across that line.

Perhaps it is time to move on and use the Final Four run as just that–a point in time. There are greater things to attack and accomplish. And there is a freshness to newness that invigorates everything around you.

So I wonder.


~ by mglitos on April 4, 2008.

22 Responses to “Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Small Minds…”

  1. Interesting thoughts… I think attendance plateau’d due to the underachieving Patriots inconsistency. There’s now a feeling of momentum going forward after Jim’s pass on PC. With the fresh start after the graduation of WT and FC, this team hopefully has a chance put themselves beyond the Final Four and use it as you say… as a foundation.

  2. I’d be interested to know what both of you think will happen when Larranaga does retire. Does he have some sharp assistant who can carry on? Or will Mason be looking to hire from with… out?

  3. Yep. This guy.

  4. “Hitch your wagon to a star.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I’ll take the known vs. the unknown any day. 2006 was a blessing. Mason fans know that…we’re not dumb enough to expect that kind of performance every year. Next year, after Chris Fleming and John Vaughan are graduates, all connections to that 2006 team will officially be gone. Maybe that’s the fresh start on Part 2 of the Larranaga legacy.

    “Anthony Grant, whose style and demeanor will never be confused with Capel, has taken that foundation and moved it to astounding, unprecedented heights.”

    Funny, but I don’t see a Final Four or a couple NCAA tourney wins on Grant’s resume. He’s going to reach heights somewhere else, not VCU. VCU should worry about keeping their students safe right now, not basketball.

    Larranaga’s return is the best thing that could happen to Mason now or in the future. If you don’t get that, you don’t know Mason Nation.

  5. Shawn I’m not a VCU fan but unless you’re new to CAA basketball you would know that VCU has won the regular season both years Grant has been there. He already has 1 VCU NCAA victory, and that was over Duke.

    Oh yeah there is also that National Championship as an assistant.

    He’s 17 years younger than coach L, I think it’s likely Grant achieves something special at VCU.

    Coach L is a great coach, and it’s great for the conference that he sticks around. That being said though its hard not to see some merit in this LAMM post. Some fresh blood although maybe a bit of a gamble could have paid off big. It’s unlikely coach L walks away with anything more than maybe a single conference championship between now and 2014-15. So when he leaves after that season, the GMU miracle of ’06 will have faded and you’ll likely end up with some Richmond/ODU or just maybe a treasured VA tech or UVa assistant.

    From reading the blog for over a year or so now it’s fairly clear that Michael Litos not only knows “Mason Nation”, but he is a card carrying member complete with yellow hair and all.

  6. Bill and Shawn both have points. I think MGL was using literary license on the statement about Grant.

    It’s undeniable that Grant has been spectacular in terms of recruiting (HELLO Florida pipeline!) and results (2 CAA regular season titles as noted by many). As great as being a national champion assistant is, he got that at Florida (not VCU) and a cynic may bring up that they won the next year without him while having the target on their chest.

    I am slightly concerned about Grant’s status (and ability to achieve something special at a CAA institution) with both the LSU and Marquette HC jobs still open.

    Also, Mason will take the NCAA bids while the other schools take the regular season titles.

  7. Bill…you do bring up some very strong pts. True…Anthony Grant has years to beef up his stats, and show he can do great things at the college level. But, I hope VCU fans don’t get their hopes up, because he’s going to be moving on shortly because of his youth. It’s just the way it goes.

    I agree with Paymon’s last comment…regular season titles are nice, but they don’t earn the ticket to the Dance…so, we’ll take the “leftovers” at Mason.

    And if Larranaga competes for that ticket every CAA postseason and keeps Mason in the top 4 every CAA season, I know I’ll be happy for the next seven years and would gladly welcome the hot assistant (UVA assistant – why not? That’s how Larranaga got his start) looking for a job when he’s done.

    As for the “miracle” reference in relation to 2006, just remember that this year’s two finalists haven’t had much luck lately winning national titles…Kansas hasn’t won since 1988, and Memphis have never won a title and only made the Final Four one year before this one (1985). Even the so-called GREAT teams from the big conferences have “miracle” seasons, too, huh? It’s tough for any school in college hoops to consistently make the Final Four and more than that, win a title (just ask UCLA). If Mason ever decides to erect a statue at the Patriot Center to honor Larranaga’s “miracle” season, I’ll be right there cheering him on.

    I mean, come on…VCU couldn’t even get out of the first round of the NIT this year. Come on.

  8. Mason does not play in above average facilities.

    The Patriot Center is like Scope and the Richmond Col.- a Circus facility

    ODU has the best facility – the TED Constant Center.

    As mentioned on ESPN.

  9. It’s sooo sad that so many are jealous of Mason’s CAA success…you know, I could care less where Mason plays – they win 99% of their games at home, so what does it matter?

    Plus, the risk of getting mugged on the streets near ODU is too great to go to a game down there anyway…

  10. Anybody who knows the CAA knows the true teams that make the CAA what it is VCU, ODU and UNCW. The only reason George Mason has the most wins in the CAA is because they have been in the CAA since it originated in 1982, oh yeah, George Mason has only been operating since 1972. We are talking about George Mason…be for real. Everybody seems to give Larranaga all this credit, to me he just reminds me of an over the hill cry baby who’s coaching style is give it to Will Thomas. The only thing he did right was recruit Will Thomas and Campbell. Grow up George Mason fans…your still George Mason and always will be.

  11. Mason does not finish in the top 4 every year. What you are really saying is the regular season title is meaningless and only the March CAA tournament counts because we play is a weak conference. Mason your 15 min are up. Larrinaga is an above average coach, not the focal point of the CAA, don’t get carried away. Mason has no history in athletics period -look up the 80s and 90s. Last 10+ years Mason makes the NCAA an average of once every 4 years.

    Written by a highschool guy – you really need to get out and see the world – this is a stupid statement.

    Plus, the risk of getting mugged on the streets near ODU is too great to go to a game down there anyway…

    Comment by Shawn — April 7, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

  12. The jealousy of Mason continues…it’s soooo pathetic…when VCU, ODU, and UNCW get to a Final Four and have the league’s winningest (who, by the way, has been in the CAA since 1997 – so, you’re 1982 argument doesn’t fly in this case) coach, get back to Mason Nation. “Give it to Will Thomas” – why not? Like VCU doesn’t want it in Maynor’s hands when it matters?

    Sad, sad sore losers…emphasis on LOSERS…

    Come on…VCU couldn’t beat a bunch of skinny white boys from W&M in the tourney…that’s just sad…maybe next year!

  13. Everyone’s an expert.

  14. “your still George Mason and always will be”

    You’re damn right we are…and will always be! I couldn’t be prouder of our university.

    It’s pretty sad that you feel the need to tear down another CAA school to have some pride in your own.

    Take your own advice and grow up (and while you’re at it, learn the difference between “your and “you’re”).

  15. I think the article brings up a valid line of thought, but I took the possibility of Coach L leaving as the opposite, putting GMU at a very dangerous disadvantage. Granted there would have been good candidates, but this isn’t UNC, we would still be looking at assistants or younger coaches from smaller conferences to come in and if they had any success, they would be gone in the next few years to the next level. Plus with one of the “reported” best recruiting classes ever to come into GMU, Coach L leaving could have destroyed what might have been.

    For the past 10 years, Coach L has had GMU in the post season about every other year, with 2004 (NIT) and 2006 (NCAA) being the deepest runs. Considering the NCAA has gotten to the point where its either win the auto bid or get lucky for one of the “6 mid major at larges” I am okay with him hanging around and being competitive for the next 7 years, hitting the post season about every year and grooming his replacement.

  16. by the way, people…don’t take life so seriously…you people are easy to antagonize…

  17. Gee, prior to coach L, Mason probably rarely approached 80% wins at home. Shawn loves to live off the final four and forget about Nestor and Paul Ball. Those were the days when attendance rarely broke 2000. ODU fans could live off their Division II Championship if they wanted to.

  18. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    We’re only two years removed from the Final Four run, and it’s still a sweet thing to savor. Maybe in five or ten years we can have this discussion, but having it now is premature.

    Keeping Larranaga was the right move. You could say that the pieces fell in place for 2006…or you could say that Larranaga put them in place, and I’d agree with the latter. He didn’t “just” start winning in 2006. He had a record of success leading up to it and that success has continued. By all estimations, GMU is a desirable job now, and it’ll be a desirable job whenever he decides to retire. But I feel, and I think all GMU fans feel, that this extension has breathed new life into us. We’re just getting started, and we can’t wait for the ride.

  19. Clearly Mason does not have a long history as a successful program, but you’ll fine few of our fans that disagree or care. Prior to attending Mason, I had no idea how the team did.

    Since Larranaga has come on board though, it’s been a very different story. In just two seasons he turned the Patriots from perennial cellar-dweller to conference champs.

    The bottom line is, with the possible exception of VCU who also has a great Coach but will be gone in two years if not earlier, there’s not a team in the league who wouldn’t jettison their head guy for a chance to replace him with Coach L. You other schools won’t admit it, but we all know it’s true.

  20. Long after VCU, ODU and other have moved on to the Big East or ACC or wherever, Mason will still be knocking around in the CAA. Good luck with that.

  21. VCU, ODU, and others in the Big East or ACC? Wow…someone really doesn’t know their college basketball…wow.

    As for attendance at Mason games; hell, it was pathetic during the Nestor and Paul Ball years. I know..I WAS THERE. I never claimed otherwise, or made any statements that eluded to a rich history before the Larranaga years.

    It’s a shame that a blog about CAA basketball and the fine institution it is has some many mentally-challenged readers. What a crying shame.


  22. […] for the same reason I opined George Mason may have been better served had Jim Larranaga gone to Providence, and I quote Emerson, perhaps it is best we stop now, evaluate, and come back with a new project […]

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