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April 7, 2006

Blair's basketball program in need of new direction

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
It's been over a month since principal Phillip Gainous dismissed boys' basketball Orlando Larracuente, and the school is mum on who his replacement will be. That's fine, because Blair's program needs a coach who, as crazy at it might seem, can do more than just coach. After years of turmoil, there is no better time for the school to hire a coach who loves the community and who wants to be here to stay.

Hopefully Gainous and athletic department heads James Short and Dale Miller have learned from the last two seasons under Larracuente. Blair needs to find someone who can win and get the school on their side.

After all, the last two job hunts have seen nothing but roadblocks thrown in Blair's way. Miller, a three-time state championship winner in the 1970s at Blair, was forced out of retirement because the school couldn't find a suitable replacement for the departing Jeffrey Newby. The next year, Miller said, the school struggled again to find a quality head coach. Larracuente, he says, "was the best we could do."

Where Blair has come from

I don't think that should necessarily be taken as a slight to the ex-coach. Before coming to Blair, Larracuente won 19 games in the 2002 season at Walt Whitman and was named All-Met Coach of the Year by The Washington Post while he was at Kennedy. Also, it should be noted that Miller recused himself from the hiring process two years ago, something he said "I guess I shouldn't have done."

Despite his past successes, once Larracuente stepped on the court in Kobren Memorial Gymnasium, the bottom seemed to fall out both on and off the court.

Both the heads of the Athletics Department and Larracuente himself (who declined comment for this story) were quiet about details of his firing. Gainous, who ultimately has the only say on hiring and firing coaches, said that his dismissal was a result of a "personnel issue."

Miller said that Larracuente's reputation as a fiery and abrasive person also hastened his exit. "A lot of coaches struggle," he noted. "But the baggage [Larracuente] brought to Blair was never checked at the door." He added that he feels "personality conflicts" hurt the coach and made the lopsided record even worse in the eyes of the school.

Dale Miller is the Athletics Director and also holds three Maryland basketball titles. Yet he said Larracuente "never came to talk" about the team or about how it should be run, which Miller said astonished him. Miller is our school's most successful living basketball coach, and certainly the best coach in the school. We need a new coach who can better communicate with and learn from Blair's Phil Jackson. Minus the soul patch.

What Blair should look for

Gainous says that Miller, Short and perhaps a booster from the school will comprise a panel to find Blair's new coach. Short said he expects Miller will have a more prominent role this time. "We'll always consult with our Athletic Director," Short explained. "He has got to play a major role in the job hunt."

And when the team hires a new coach, it needs to look beyond the basketball court. What the panel did well last time, Gainous said, was hire a coach who was committed to educating his team. "Coach Larracuente had a strong background. He put together a strong academic support program while he was here to get kids eligible," the principal said.

Junior Quentin Snively, whom Silver Chips profiled in an October 2005 story about ineligible students, is one such player. Snively said that Larracuente "believed" in him, and deserved more time. "He should have been given four or five more years," he said. After being ineligible since freshman year, Snively got his grades up and played on the varsity roster for the last half of the season.

This academic progress needs to be the major carryover from the Larracuente era. But the next head coach also has to make sure he doesn't alienate the fans and colleagues around him. Miller agreed, saying, "That's the major thing. You have to deal with so many people around here. You can't just do whatever you want and say, `To hell with everyone else.'"

Why Blair needs stability

Blair's program also needs stability. Magruder assistant coach Richard Porac, who spent two years filling the same role at Blair (including Larracuente's first season) says that he has found that continuity is key. The Colonels were the top seed in the Maryland 4A West division last year under 17-year head coach Dan Harwood. Of Harwood, Porac said, "Harwood is-- and I don't want to sound cliché, but [he] is a legend. And that's really because he's been with the school so long."

Porac attributes the Colonels' success not just to longevity but also to community support. "Coach Harwood does things right," he lauded. "He gets along with parents and officials. He treats people with respect. That's why Magruder gets so much fan support."

Such fan support is something that Blair has sorely lacked the last few seasons. Some nights last year there were as few as 50 fans at the gym for home games. On a couple of occasions, road teams like Richard Montgomery had more fans than the Blazers did. While that is almost certainly not because of the coach, it can't hurt to better reach out to the community.

Sadly, many coaches at Blair have had losing years of late. But nobody took as much criticism as Larracuente. The Silver Chips Online comments pages were filled with negative comments and pleas to fire him, as were some local Internet message boards. Hopefully the community will be more supportive of the next coach, and the coach will give the school something to be proud of.

The community also needs to show patience. Larracuente said after games last season that he had a system that he wanted to put into place, and that they were building towards that. But "personnel issues" put an end to that. The community needs to be patient with whoever comes in here next.

Said Porac, "The road at Blair is tough. Nobody starts out winning right away. Whoever comes in to Blair is going to have a lot work ahead of them."

That's absolutely true. Lets just hope there's a coach out there who is willing to throw Blair a life raft and save this basketball program.

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  • An easy solution on April 8, 2006 at 8:14 PM
    Make Porac the new coach
  • ummm on April 8, 2006 at 9:42 PM
    yea porac should coach he gots experience by coaching magruder a powerhouse team
  • baller on April 11, 2006 at 1:45 PM
    Porac would be better, but Blair can do better. There are many varsity coaches who have experience.
  • alum on April 18, 2006 at 3:41 PM
    porac has minmal coaching expericens compared to othere head and assistant coaches in the county. He has only been coaching for a couple years at the high school level. I belive around 4 to 5 years, which is not very much.
  • alum on April 19, 2006 at 10:16 PM
    Look the bottom line is that the program hadn't won in won in years before Larracuente. Blairs rep around the county is the kids are undisciplined
    and don't play together. Seeing what Larracuente did at Kennedy is a testimony to the fact, he was the perfect guy for the job. Kennedy was the exact same scenario except there wasn't as much focus on the coach(Larracuente) and the kids at Kennedy took to his ways faster in terms of on the court. Larracuente's job was FIRST get the kids to do the work(successful) and then REBUILD the program(wasn't given enough time). Rebuilding a broken program like this doesn't happen in two years, it happens in 4, 5, 6 years. Larracuente was an intense and enthusiastic coach. The only baggage he had was people were intimidated by him, but that is not his fault. I have seen with my own eyes what this guy can do with struggling youg men like Snively or anyone who has potential and isn't achieving it. It is incredible. Seeing both JV and Varsity play Larracuente was right. The JV team was filled with youg kids who were commited to his system. If Larracuente was still there and given two more years there would have been a possible state title run. He was going to have a 6'6"+ sophmore with returning big men who had great potential. The team was raw bottom line. There were guys who had 1 year playing basketball that had big potential. Mohammad Roberson returning as a senior has the athletisism of Division 1 athlete. They would have been spectacular to watch in Larracuente's fast break system. In the article it said that Larracuente never talked to the AD on how he should run the team. The coach is the one who runs the team thats why he is the coach, it doesn't matter what kind of crodentials the AD has. How was Larracuente supposed to gain the kids trust with so many people criticizing him. It was rediculous people didn't let the man do his job. I no that the kids were even having a hard time getting into their own gym with out being kicked out. What kind of school support is that. If the team and Larracuente were given time Blair would have returned to its old winnig form. If the team does make improvements next year some credit should go to Larracuente he was the won who got them started in the right path even though the record might not show it. He was the right guy for the job.
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