College basketball has had coaching icons — pillars of the sport — dip into retirement these past two years. Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Jay Wright, Jim Boeheim. Hall of Famers, all.
There's another coach, someone with a Final Four to his name, who's been the subject of retirement rumors for a while. In fact, there's been baseless speculation on this topic since he took the Miami job 12 years ago. Surely Jim Larrañaga is close to hanging it up, right? Wrong.
The 73-year-old Larrañaga won't be joining those aforementioned legends any time soon.
"I'm not retiring," Larrañaga told CBS Sports on Tuesday. "Not any time soon. I have [teenage] grandsons, and they all want me to coach them."
"If he retired, I have no idea what he'd do," Hurricanes associate head coach Bill Courtney said. "He has no intention of retiring. As long as his health keeps up, he's going to keep going as long as he can."
Overcoming the obstacles. The story of James Joseph Larrañaga's life. One major reason he's still coaching well into his 70s with the passion and wide-eyed optimism of a 35-year-old: his bride of 51 years. Liz Larrañaga is every bit a part of the program as her husband.
"I've got the title, but she is the associate head coach," Courtney said with a laugh.
Larrañaga is a basketball lifer and someone who's managed to thrive just outside the spotlight for the majority of the past 15 years in college basketball. Yet here he is again, having guided Miami to another Sweet 16, the school's fourth since he arrived in 2011. His fifth-seeded Hurricanes, the only ACC team left in the field, will play No. 1 seed Houston on Friday in Kansas City in the Midwest Regional semifinals. Miami's program had four NCAA Tournament wins in its history when Larrañaga arrived; it's won nine on his watch. Larrañaga also has three of the program's four conference titles.
He also did that thing once upon a time at George Mason.
There's an easy argument that Larrañaga is the most underrated high-major coach in college basketball. At the very least, he still doesn't get his full due. Now in his 37th season, Larrañaga has 723 wins and seems destined to eventually reach 800. The basketball glories at George Mason and Miami are mostly tied to his time as the coach. Few others can claim that kind of legacy.
"Is there anyone who's won that many games at these types of jobs?" former assistant/current George Washington coach Chris Caputo said. "George Mason's a former commuter school, was D-II, had seven straight losing seasons when he got there and hasn't sniffed the (NCAAs) since he left."
Adaptive. That's the word to define him. Larrañaga's had no choice but to adapt. When he took his first job at Bowling Green in the 1980s, the team would sometimes drive hundreds of miles each way on game days because it didn't have the budget to rack up hotel stays. He's never taken an "easy" job.
"I don't know if there's any guys on that list with 700 wins that have done it at places with a lack of history like Bowling Green, George Mason and Miami," Caputo said.
Mason had a 10,000-seat arena and not even a thousand people were coming to the games when he started there. All Larrañaga does is habituate and overcome difficult circumstances and continue to win — while having the affable disposition of an enthusiastic grandpa.
"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it," Larrañaga previously told CBS Sports.
He's also been as good in the transfer market as any coach. Fred Hoiberg, Eric Musselman and Ed Cooley all built part of their reputations for having a magic touch with transfers, but Larrañaga's probably been the most successful of them all. All four Sweet 16 teams at Miami have featured three starters that began their college careers somewhere else. This year's group includes Jordan Miller (George Mason), Nijel Pack (Kansas State) and Norchad Omier (Arkansas State).
"He's overcome challenges," Caputo said. "Transfers being a thing now, he's not going to say, 'I can't operate in this environment.' He can operate in any environment because he's a problem-solver."
It's not only transfers. The man's done it every way. Miami was landing five-star prospects for a spurt in the back half of the 2010s: Lonnie Walker, Bruce Brown, Dewan Hernandez. Then the FBI case threatened to cripple the program. The school was eventually 100% cleared — with investigators publicly walking back attaching Miami to the investigation in the first place — but the program's recruiting suffered immensely because of it. The U drifted into the back half of the ACC for a spell.
Larrañaga never considered walking away.
"He was so comfortable in the environment of fighting," Caputo said. "We built this thing up, we had it rolling, we had been in three straight NCAAs and NIT and another Sweet 16 in six years, then we got hit with the FBI stuff."
Saddiq Bey committed to Miami but bailed after the FBI case and went to Villanova. He's currently one of the better young players in the NBA. In 2018, Miami didn't add a single freshman because it basically couldn't. Transfers filled out the holes as the program essentially fell 1.5 recruiting classes behind. The team also lost more than 100 games from players due to injury issues.
Didn't stop Larrañaga.
"He's been able to block out all of the outside noise and is able to focus on his love of the game and love of teaching," Courtney said. "A lot of guys, when they get to this level they become CEOs. He's not a CEO. He's a teacher."
Miami made the Elite Eight last year and is a win away from doing it again. Just 40 years of being undeterred for his players. Constant acclimation, and even some semi-controversy for good measure. Nearly a year ago, Pack signed an $800,000 NIL deal with billionaire booster John Ruiz's LifeWallet company. Of all the coaches to have a transfer sign the noisiest NIL deal in college sports … Larrañaga?
"The rules change around him and he adapts," Courntey said. "If you're a guard and you're a transfer, it's not why would you come here, it's why wouldn't you come here?"
One thing Larrañaga isn't: stubborn. Goes with that adaptation philosophy, right? He used to demand players keep their hair short at George Mason. Used to ban certain wardrobes or headgear. He dropped the policy years ago. Players first, always.
"The players never think it's about him," Caputo said. "It's about the team, it's about them. It's never self-serving. I don't know how you get to that place as a coach, but that's how he is."
Courtney and the rest of his staff have of course been instrumental in keeping Miami competitive nationally. After Miami's win over Indiana on Sunday in the second round, Larrañaga, as always, was effusive in his praise of his staff.
"He's got that grandfatherly vibe and he kind of plays to that," Courtney said.
It must be noted here, the man is also savvy with social media.
Some people asked if I photoshopped this photo. Here is the answer. pic.twitter.com/ijwLSgxY1y— Jim Larrañaga (@CanesCoachL) February 6, 2023
"He cares about his guys, has a genuine love for his players," Courtney added. "I don't think people understand how deep it is. Everything that happens to our guys, on and off the floor, he takes it home with him. A lot of guys don't do that."
It's everyone in the program, not just the players. Larrañaga will call up Courtney five times a night from his living room, just watching basketball. Jim's son, Jay, is an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers, so he has to catch every Clippers game.
Billy, are you watching? Did you see that action they ran there? … Oh, check out what they're doing on this play!
He watches videos on his iPad of his grade-school grandchildren and cuts up film. A basketball junkie. The only non-basketball thing he trades notes on with his staff are movies and shows to watch on Netflix.
"He don't have no hobbies," Courtney said.
Larrañaga isn't going anywhere except Kansas City, then whatever should follow. But it surely won't be retirement. Who knows what's next ... maybe another Final Four?