Coach L Takes Basketball Inspiration to Business Executives

Posted: December 4, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Since Mason’s magical Final Four run last spring, men’s basketball coach Jim Larranaga has taken his inspirational message to a wide range of people and organizations.

Last Tuesday at the Patriot Center, another group got an up-close-and-personal presentation from the veteran Mason mentor during a special four-hour event titled “Habits of Excellence.”

Through a pilot program with Mason’s School of Management (SOM), a group of 20 local business executives from 17 different organizations experienced an afternoon of “practice” under Larranaga and Patriots assistant coaches Chris Caputo, Scott Cherry and James Johnson. The event concluded with a dinner where Larranaga summed up his philosophy of basketball – and life.

“Habits of Excellence”

“Habits of Excellence” is a leadership and team development session designed for organizational teams of 10 to 24 executives, according to Roy Hinton, SOM associate dean of executive programs. Tuesday’s participants received a special invitation from SOM to take part in the inaugural offering and provide feedback on its design and potential value to organizations.

The pilot event began in the Patriots’ locker room with opening remarks by Hinton. He helped set the stage by emphasizing that goals such as teamwork, collaboration, communication and conflict resolution are as vital in the business world as they are in athletics. During the subsequent team meetings and practice drills, Larranaga emphasized how lessons learned in basketball can carry over to the workplace.

Later the local executives saw a tape of televised highlights of Mason’s road to the Final Four. “We are constantly reinforcing the idea of how good we are,” Larranaga told the participants, who were given Mason T-shirts to wear with casual clothes for the event. “Want to see it again?” Larranaga asked with a big smile after the highlight tape was done.

Impressed Executives

One of the participants Tuesday was Mary Frestel, director of coaching and development at Beers & Cutler, an accounting, tax and consulting firm in Vienna, Va.

“It was so much fun learning in that context. He gives excellent examples,” Frestel said of Larranaga. “This is an excellent program. There is a lot of applicability to the business world. It was a very, very well-executed program.”

She was also impressed with Larranaga’s after-dinner remarks. “Instead of being negative and putting people down, use a positive attitude in any interaction that you have with people,” she said, paraphrasing remarks from the coach. “He is a fabulous teacher. People are energized.”

Another executive who took part was Suzanne Hubbard, a partner at the Tysons Corner, Va., office of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Hubbard recruits new employees at colleges and said 81 Mason graduates work for her company in the Washington, D.C., area. Hubbard, who moved to the area from Toronto a few years ago, had not been to the Patriot Center before Tuesday.

“I was so impressed. It was very professionally done. His stories are fantastic,” Hubbard said of Larranaga.

Said Marcus Perry, a senior vice president for the Business Bank in Vienna, “As a dry run, it was a fantastic exercise. The biggest thing is coach Larranaga’s enthusiasm. He views this as life lessons.”

Todd Dempsey, senior vice president of United Bank, wrote in an e-mail, “I participated in the program to learn about motivating a team. I wasn’t disappointed. From the beginning of the program in the Patriots’ locker room through the coach’s closing pep talk, the messages were clear and consistent: strive to excel in all the things you do, do all things with class and good character, help others achieve their potential, clearly communicate your expectations, have fun and do all things with a positive attitude. Will I be able to transfer the lessons learned into the business world? I started the very next day!”

Coach K Inspiration

Larranaga said he was inspired to suggest the “Habits of Excellence” program to SOM when he read about the Coach K Conference on Leadership at Duke University. That program features Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has won three national titles and made 10 Final Four appearances in 27 years at the school.

The School of Management worked closely with Larranaga in planning the pilot program and plans to do future “Habits of Excellence” programs specifically tailored to a company’s needs.

Larranaga was pleased with the feedback from the event, which took place on an off day for Patriot players.

“What was our goal? Did we accomplish it? I feel like we definitely did,” Larranaga said afterwards. “Our goal is to tell the George Mason story to the business community as often as we possibly can.”

Larranaga said he wants to work with various academic departments at the university and help them achieve their goals. He reiterated that the George Mason story is not just about basketball, but about the success of many departments.

Reflecting on the Tuesday group, Larranaga said, “They were very successful people who appeared to have a wonderful time.”

Write to at