The Washington Times - April 22, 2011, 08:42PM

When long-time George Mason president Alan Merten recently decided to retire, effective next summer, basketball coach Jim Larranaga started thinking about its future and his own career and where it was – and where it could still go.

“One thing kept coming up: I’d love to coach in the ACC,” Larranaga said during a press conference in Coral Gables, Fla., tonight. “I’d like to coach at the highest level at Cameron Indoor Stadium or at the Dean Dome and challenge the premiere programs in the country.”

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Larranaga will get that chance after accepting the head coaching gig at Miami.

Larranaga leaves George Mason after 14 seasons in Fairfax, departing a program coming off a 27-7 season that included a trip to the NCAA tournament’s round of 32.

The bulk of that roster is set to return in 2011-12.

“I’m leaving behind a team at George Mason that some of those ridiculously early top 25 polls that sportswriters and web sites [produce] are picking to be in the top 25,” Larranaga said. “I wouldn’t have left that caliber a team if we did not feel like we had that caliber of talent already here at The U – that we have the capability of challenging the very best teams in the ACC and the country.”

Larranaga is one of seven coaches to enter the ACC in the last 25 months, a turnover he noted to reporters. Georgia Tech and N.C. State also changed coaches this season.

In some ways, the fresh starts at so many of the league’s outposts creates another opportunity for Larranaga – the chance to take a middle-of-the-road program into the top half of the conference on a regular basis.

“Our challenge is going to be to build a program – not a team, but a program – that can sustain success over a period of time … and a team everyone will be dying to get a ticket and a seat for.”

Patrick Stevens