Miami plays in the NCAA Elite Eight today vs Kansas. It’s a remarkable achievement given Miami has never gotten this far in the NCAA Tournament despite having at least a half dozen teams (if not more) in the last 25 years on paper better than this one. Miami has won both the Big East and ACC, two incredibly difficult basketball leagues, has finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 multiple times. Yet, they’ve never gotten this far in the NCAA Tournament.
In January, I penned a piece apologizing to Coach L, for early in this season, I was so down on the program and his leadership I said some things that look ridiculous in hindsight. This is by the way, very much a self-ownership piece, as when I am wrong, I call myself out. I cannot hold other accountable, if I do not do so to myself.
Link to original piece
Earlier in the month, The Miami Herald’s Michelle Kaufman wrote a poignant piece about University of Miami men’s basketball coach, Jim Larrañaga (Coach L) and the demands by the small contingent of fans who closely follow College Basketball in south Florida, that he step aside. The 72-year old Larrañaga is an absolute legend, but outside adversity and circumstances led many of us to believe his time was up.
As it turns out, her column could have been entirely about me.
First off, as someone who has worked as media relations/communications professional in soccer I’ve interacted with Michelle an awful lot through the years, but more importantly for the last decade or more, Miami Hurricanes Basketball has been the only non-soccer team sport squad, that I have followed closely. I am someone who hasn’t even watched a Super Bowl in at least 15 years, maybe more, haven’t watched Baseball at all in that period and only have watched the NBA when the Heat make the finals.
So outside of soccer, a sport I work in professionally, UM Basketball is it for me (generally when other sports are on TV during the weekend, I’ll focus on watching documentaries, reading or indulging in old movies). After seven outstanding seasons to start Larrañaga’s Miami tenure , including an ACC title and six seasons where the Hurricanes finished in the top half of America’s most difficult college basketball league, UM fell on hard times.
An FBI investigation connected to the Adidas scandal eventually fizzled out, with Miami not being placed on probation of any kind by the NCAA (one Miami player, the McDonald’s All-American big man Dewan Huell was declared ineligible but that was extent of punishment). But it had taken its toll, with recruits fleeing the program (including Saddiq Bey who instead went to Villanova)and players transferring. COVID took a toll on Miami as well, with the team barely able to field a full starting five at times last season. Things looked bleak last March, and calls for Coach L’s dismissal reached a fever pitch.
Unlike many in the Miami fan base, I felt Coach L should get another season, but this season started poorly. A loss at home to UCF, a near miss vs FAU and then blowout loses to Dayton and Alabama in Orlando led me to think that time was up.
And accordingly, my frustrations had reached such a boiling point in November and early December this year, that I had texted friends and put messages in chat groups that Coach L should retire before Miami faced Clemson in the ACC opener, so he could preserve his overall winning conference record which had taken a hit the last three seasons. Get out and be properly honored before this team got inevitably embarrassed by the likes of Virginia, Duke and North Carolina. Well, I was dead wrong.
Not only did Miami beat Clemson in that opener, but outside of two heartbreaking single-point losses to Florida State, Miami has won all eight ACC games to this point in the season. This run has included beating North Carolina so badly, the Tar Heels recorded the worst first half performance in that game, in their storied history! At the midway point of the ACC campaign, the Hurricanes sit atop the league.
So we all owe Coach L an apology, and as far as I am concerned he can stay in the job as long as he wants. Even at 72, he’s still got something very special, and it rubs off on his players who are punching well above their weight thus far this ACC campaign.