Tom O'Connor discusses search for Larranaga's replacement

Athletic director Tom O'Connor addressed the media in a press conference last Friday following Larranaga's departure (pictured above). One week later, he held an open forum with members of the Patriot Platoon to discuss the search for a new coach. (John Powell)

George Mason Director of Athletics Tom O’Connor answered questions about his search for a new head basketball coach Thursday night in an open discussion with members of the Patriot Platoon.

O’Connor refused to disclose the names, however, of any of the candidates for the vacancy out of respect to confidentiality.

“In a way I would love to tell you, but I don’t think that’s fair to the individuals involved,” he said.

The rumor surfaced recently that American head coach Jeff Jones was scheduled to interview for the position today. However, O’Connor said he knew nothing of such an interview. He would not say whether Jones was or was not a candidate; he simply said there was no interview today.

“Don’t believe rumors in the paper, don’t believe rumors period,” O’Connor said.

Although he refused to mention specific names, he did discuss the qualities he is looking for to replace the 14-year tenured Jim Larranaga, who decided the leave the program Friday of last week to start a new journey with the University of Miami.

“The number one aspect is I want to make sure that the person can teach basketball in practice, and then be a good game coach,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor wants an adaptable and versatile prospect who has head coach experience at the collegiate level.

“It’s got to be that person that is well-rounded as a coach, but again, that comes from teaching,” he said. “And my thrust is that the individual can teach, can communicate with our basketball players.”

Recruiting ability is another priority for O’Connor. He hopes to find someone who has quality connections in the high school and AAU ranks.

He did confirm that both of next year’s recruits, Vaughn Gray and Corey Edwards, will be attending Mason as planned. Both are from the New York/New Jersey region, an area in which Larranaga had strong ties.

“He [Gray] is signed, sealed, delivered,” O’Connor said. “He wanted to know the first day he could get here for summer session, so he’s excited.”

Gray is a multipurpose 6’5” small forward out of Elmwood Park, NJ, who is solid on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

His counterpart, Edwards, is a speedy true point guard out of Middle Village, NY. He was named First Team All-Queens and First Team All-Metropolitan New York. According to O’Connor, he is still anxious to join the Patriots as well.

Also important to O’Connor is the personality of the new coach.

“I want someone who is very interested in people’s lives,” O’Connor said.

He wants an individual who has strong core values, which he considered to be a strength of Larranaga. According to O’Connor, Coach L was great at promoting sportsmanship and building character.

“Don’t misinterpret me,” he said. “I want somebody who can win basketball games for us because we’ve had such great success with coach [Larranaga]; I want to continue that success.”

O’Connor spoke highly of the current players and the way that they have handled the difficult situation.

“Some of the guys on the team have really stepped up, I’m really proud of Mike Morrison,” he said.

The day of Larranaga’s announcement that he was heading to South Beach, the players delegated junior forward Morrison as the single spokesman for the team in the midst of the heavy media attention.

“It’s a sense of maturity,” said O’Connor about the way the players came together, “but it also goes back to the Italy trip because that’s when they started to bond.”

Prior to the start of the 2010-11 season, the entire squad traveled to Italy as a summer training trip. Although getting to practice together in the off-season went a long way towards the team’s success, the chemistry they developed off the court during the trip was the most valuable thing they brought back to Fairfax.

Despite the growing bond among the players, sophomore Rashad Whack is still uncertain about whether he will return next season. He has received limited playing time during his two years under Larranaga.

“I hope he wants to stay because I really like him, he’s a good guy, he really is, and he’s got a lot of talent,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor has no exact timetable for his selection process, but hopes to have the new coach in place by the time the players depart for summer break. Ideally, he would like the coach established by exam week, giving the players an opportunity to meet with him prior to focusing on their academics.


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