With former Miami AD Blake James apparently poised to become Boston College’s next athletic director, we are hoping to zoom out a bit from the immediate hot takes (pro and con) and review his record at the helm, both at Miami (2013-2021) and at Maine, where he previously served as AD from 2005-2010.
Part 1: The Coaching Hires
While the AD’s day-to-day job is primarily administration, management, and fundraising, without a doubt the most public-facing aspect of an AD’s job is hiring head coaches - especially of the prominent, revenue-generating sports. Inevitably, these hires will shape an AD’s legacy at a school.
BC is in a bit of a (hopefully good?) unusual situation in this regard, where across BC’s major men’s revenue sports - football, basketball, and hockey - there is generally a hope and belief that BC has the right young, up-and-coming coach in place who is poised to help the program achieve its potential. If James is making a hire across these sports in the near-term, something has gone awry (or things went so well that a coach was poached).
Even in the less prominent sports, BC seems to be pretty stable, coaching-wise - women’s hoops is having a trying offseason but generally results have improved under the current staff; women’s hockey and lax are obviously in strong positions... the most prominent sport potentially facing an imminent decision is baseball.
That said, odds are that for one reason or another, if James is here for ~4-5 years, he’s going to have to replace at least one fairly prominent coach.
Let’s take a look at his hiring track record - not trying to editorialize too much, but focusing on presenting some facts.
Football is priority 1, 2 and 3 at BC and that’s even moreso the case at Miami - and it was ultimately unease around Miami football’s inability to break back in to the elite that was the cause of James’ undoing at The U.
Who were his hires and how did they perform?
When James started as Miami AD in 2013, he inherited Al Golden, who, much like Larry Coker and Randy Shannon before him, mostly had Miami doing Fine in the ACC, but nothing extraordinary. Miami made a bowl game every year in the 5 years prior to James’ arrival, but never went more than 9-4.
In 2015, Golden was off to a 4-3 start (1-2 ACC, including a demolition at the hands of Clemson) when James made the major move of firing Golden in-season.
James’ first hire of his own for football was Mark Richt, who came to Miami after 15 successful seasons at the University of Georgia, where he went 145-51. He immediately had some success at Miami, going 9-4 and 10-3 in the first two years, including Miami’s trip to the ACC title game in 2017. He retired after a 7-6 season in 2018.
The main criticisms of the Richt hire seem to be that a) he was toward the end of his career and close to retirement, and, I guess, b) that his final season was 7-6, less than what Miami would hope for. But in context of how Miami has actually performed in real life since joining the ACC (not in the imaginations of people who think it’s still the 80s), Richt was a pretty successful hire.
The follow-up to Richt was Manny Diaz, Richt’s defensive coordinator, who originally decamped for Temple before being lured back to Miami after Richt’s retirement.
Diaz was at the helm for three seasons, going a combined 21-15, including an 8-3 season in the 2020 COVID year (7-2 ACC) and 7-5 in 2021.
The verdict on the football hires? You’re free to have your own reaction to this, positive or negative, but it certainly feels like Richt and Diaz basically performed at the level of success reasonably expected at Miami during their time in the ACC - neither better nor worse. However, Miami obviously wants more than that, and under their new AD, Mario Cristobal was brought back from Oregon and in their eyes can be that guy. We shall see.
This is a much shorter section to write: Blake James inherited Jim Larranaga, who was coming off a Sweet 16 appearance when James took the helm at the U. Larranaga remained the head coach throughout James’ tenure.
While there are no hiring or firing decisions to evaluate, when looking at a situation like this, the questions are along the lines of: 1) was keeping the coach the right decision? 2) was it especially impressive/positive to keep the coach? 3) was the coach set up for success?
Larranaga performed quite well in historical context for Miami throughout James’ tenure, winning 20+ games every year from 2014-15 to 2017-18, with three NCAA tournament appearances in that time. He had down years in ‘19, ‘20 and ‘21, leading to speculation that he might be fired by the new AD - but they kept him on board, and Larranaga steered the team back to the Elite Eight this past year.
The bottom line: you can’t really give James any credit here, but things were obviously fine, and it was the right decision not to let him go even though they had a few down seasons.
The story here is pretty similar - James inherited Katie Meier, who was doing a good job when James came on board, and continued to do a good job throughout his tenure. Meier’s teams made the postseason every year between 2010 and 2019, and made it back to the NCAAs this year.
Like hockey at BC, baseball is part of the fabric of the University of Miami and a point of significant pride. Unlike in basketball, James did have to make a decision here.,
James initially inherited coach Jim Morris, who was at the helm for 25 years and 1,090 wins, including two national titles, before retiring in 2018.
Upon Morris’s retirement, Miami hired Gino DiMare, who was assistant coach under Morris for 16 years. DiMare may not have been an imaginative hire, but he seems to have continued the success of his predecessor and has qualified for the tournament each year other than the canceled 2020 COVID year.
James was on the job for one month when he hired Jose Gandara as Miami volleyball coach; the Hurricanes have made the tournament 5 times in those 9 years. One of Miami’s other famed programs is women’s golf, which won the school’s only NCAA title outside of baseball. James inherited Patti Rizzo, who had a strong record and just retired this year.
Miami doesn’t have varsity men’s soccer, but their women’s team went through two coaches under James’ tenure: Mary-Frances Monroe and, currently, Sarah Barnes. Neither managed to make the NCAA tournament across their tenure - a disappointment after the program made the tournament 4 times in 6 years from 2007-2012.
The bottom line at Miami:
Other than maybe women’s soccer, James doesn’t really have a hire at Miami that went poorly. He also didn’t really have one that was a smashing success - Miami had good coaches and programs across his tenure, but they were mostly ones he inherited (basketball) or were obvious choices as next-in-line (baseball). He in fact mostly didn’t have to make many major decisions at all - outside, of course, of football. How you evaluate James’ football coaches probably depends on what you think a reasonable expectation is for Miami in 2022.
From 2005-2010, James was AD at the University of Maine. A look at that record:
The most important sport at Maine is men’s hockey; James inherited Tim Whitehead, and Whitehead was still the coach when he left. On the one hand, Whitehead led the team to two Frozen Fours in James’ five years.
On the other hand, Maine’s long-lasting decline began during James’ final years. The 2008 and ‘09 Black Bears were awful, though they did rebound to have a decent 2009-10 (19-17-3, and a loss in the Hockey East title game). That said, Whitehead was eventually forced out after 2013 due to continued struggles.
Not a lot to report here, either: James inherited Jack Cosgrove, who coached Maine for 22 years, including the entirety of James’ tenure, in which Maine made one NCAA FCS tournament appearance.
In case you’re starting to sense a trend here: James inherited men’s basketball coach Ted Woodward, who was there for James’ entire tenure. Woodward did not do particularly well (117-178), though neither have most Maine basketball coaches.
In women’s basketball, the record is a little more concerning: after highly successful coach Sharon Versyp left for Purdue, James made two hires: Ann McInerney and Cindy Blodget; neither had a winning season during their times at Maine. Now, long after James’ departure, Maine is back to being a top program in America East WBB.
In baseball, James was responsible for hiring Steve Trimper in 2006. Trimper was pretty successful at Maine, making the NCAA tournament in his first year and returning in 2011. Trimper ultimately got poached by Stetson in 2016.
The bottom line at Maine:
Much like with Miami, there aren’t that many moves to criticize, though also not a ton to shower great praise upon either. Keeping Whitehead was probably the highest-profile and potentially wrong decision - maybe a quicker move might have worked out better for Maine - but that program has continued to struggle long after Whitehead’s departure.
His baseball hire was very good, though the women’s basketball coaches were whiffs.
Hopefully this overview presents a more complete picture of James’ hiring record than quick hot takes.
We’ll be back to review James’ record as AD in the coming days with Part II: facilities and fundraising; and Part III: politics and ‘intangibles’.