Mark Turgeon has agreed to become the next Maryland basketball head coach. But does he know what he's getting himself into? He's joining a program that has the second-most ACC wins in the past 12 years. A school that, prior to last season, had the longest running streak of postseason play in the conference. A fanbase that expects to go to the NCAA Tournament every single year.
Fortunately, that's something that Turgeon has some experience with. He's taken his Texas A&M Aggies to the Tournament in all four of his years as head coach in College Station. Unfortunately though, he hasn't taken them past the second round.
Most of all though, the head coach position at the University of Maryland will pose a challenge because Turgeon will have to replace a legend in Gary Williams. Williams’ tenure as head coach of the Terrapins touched four decades. And interestingly enough, Williams’ roller coaster ride story at Maryland started and ended with players who shared his last name, but no family relation.
Walt Williams saved the University and may have saved its coach’s job when he elected to stay and play for Gary despite the Terrapins receiving major sanctions from the NCAA. Had Walt departed when coach Bob Wade was fired, or when Wade’s violations were uncovered and punished, Gary’s career may have never gotten off the blocks. But Walt stayed, and the rest is history.
Gary’s coaching career ended with another Williams: sophomore power forward Jordan Williams, who by most accounts is leaving college at least one year too early. With Williams on board for another year, Terrell Stoglin continuing to improve and newcomers Nick Faust and Sterling Gibbs set to join the team, the 2011-12 season could have been a big one for Maryland. It could have been Gary’s one last run.
Unfortunately, Jordan’s announcement last week that he would not be returning to college was a crucial blow to Maryland’s hopes. The coach indicated that his star’s decision to leave early had no bearing on his decision to retire, but the timing is still awfully convenient, and it’s hard to imagine that the man who wears his heart on his wet sweaty sleeve didn’t have at least some kind of emotional reaction of disappointment to see his shot at "one last run" disappear.
Williams took the Maryland basketball program from its absolute lowest point to its absolute highest, from the depression of a two-year postseason ban, to the calls from fans for Earl Badu to enter the 2002 NCAA Tournament Final as the Terrapins began to pull away from the Indiana Hoosiers.
Turgeon will have giant shoes to fill. Not just because of Williams’ results on the court, but because of what he helped build. The University of Maryland should erect a statue for Gary Williams, and it should probably be bigger than that statue that they’ve already erected for Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog.
With Turgeon, Terrapins fans are getting a legit head coach. He's got the necessary experience and he's earned the opportunity to prove himself at the next level, going 97-40 in four years of coaching at Texas A&M. He may not have gotten past the second round of the NCAA Tournament with the Aggies, but he did take the Wichita State Shockers to the Sweet 16 in 2006, knocking off the No. 2 seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the process. He's been an underdog before.
Turgeon may not have been Athletic Director Kevin Anderson's top choice, but he's definitely qualified. And the Terrapins probably didn't have much of a chance of landing Brad Stevens, Jay Wright, Sean Miller or Mike Brey anyway. Let's be honest: Maryland isn't quite a top tier school. It's not Duke or Kentucky. Maryland is in the second tier, but so is Villanova. So is Arizona. Its not a big enough step up (and probably not a big enough raise) for a coach to uproot his family and leave behind a program that he's helped build. Maryland was never going to get a superstar head coach.
That's okay though. Because Gary Williams wasn't exactly a superstar head coach when he accepted the job in College Park either. He did just fine anyway. With some luck, and unequaled energy, Turgeon can do the same.