- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

It was an annual rite of rejection for Jim Larranaga.

Each spring, the coach of George Mason’s basketball team contacted the Washington Speakers Bureau to offer his services.

And, each spring, Larranaga always got the same answer from the agency that books speaking engagements for political figures and sports celebrities like Joe Gibbs, Joe Theismann, Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino.

“I got a very nice reply saying, ‘No,’ ” Larranaga says.

Funny how a most unlikely trip to the Final Four changes things.

The little-known coach that no one cared to listen to now is something of a folk hero for proving that anything is possible, for his corny antics and entertaining storytelling and for his passion for basketball and life.

Larranaga didn’t just make history with the Patriots’ astounding run to the Final Four in March; he also saved himself yet another thanks-but-no-thanks note from the Washington Speakers Bureau.

“This spring, they contacted me,” Larranaga says. “I felt like one of my lifelong goals could be accomplished.”

Larranaga suddenly was a hot commodity as a motivational speaker. The 57-year-old delivered about 30 speeches to corporations and trade groups from Seattle to Salt Lake City to Dallas to Chicago, as well as the Washington area.

Those talks — the fees can run well into five figures — are in addition to the about 30 speeches he does for free for community and religious groups, such as his visit to the National Jewish Federation on Monday.

“In a usual spring, summer and fall, I might do 20 or 30 speeches,” he says. “Almost all of those were things I was doing pro bono.”

That is just the beginning of the marketing done by the tireless coach, who sleeps about five hours a night, routinely works the phone until 11 p.m. and is on his computer until the wee hours.

“It is like the Final Four is still going on,” says Larranaga’s wife, Liz. “He is wise enough to enjoy it. It is something he always wanted to do. He really enjoys telling his story. And I think he thinks it is helping a lot of people.”

Speaking engagements were only the beginning.

Larranaga also coached at the Michael Jordan Senior Flight School in Las Vegas, where wealthy businessmen paid $17,500 for a week of instruction from hoops greats like Larry Brown, Lenny Wilkens, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun. He is working with National Geographic magazine on promoting another one of his passions and creating a globe on a basketball. A “Coach L” geography bee also soon could be on the Internet.

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