COLLEGE PARK, Md. — New University of Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon said all the right things when he was introduced to the media Wednesday at Comcast Center’s Heritage Hall.
He said things like,”I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here”, “phenomenal to be standing here as the head coach of Maryland basketball” and “I’ve turned down a lot of jobs over the last four years, and it was going to take a special one for me to move my family. And Maryland’s a special place and that’s why I’m here.”
His comments even channeled the great Charlie Sheen a bit as he exclaimed at one point: “my style of play is winning.”
Following the press conference, he eased concerns that he would eventually leave Maryland to return to his alma-mater (Kansas) by telling me he “hoped” Maryland would be his last job, as long as he was successful enough to remain at the school.
All of the above were home run comments.
It isn’t surprising that Turgeon was so impressive in his first media session after replacing a legend in Gary Williams, who stepped down last week after 22 seasons with the Terrapins. Turgeon has been a head coach at the NCAA level for 13 seasons and will begin his 25th season of coaching in some capacity this fall.
He’s had plenty of opportunities to hone his skills behind a microphone in his career. In fact, he’s had that many opportunities to say the right thing when accepting a new position.
While admitting that I had never watched a Mark Turgeon press conference or interview before in my life (with no offense to Texas A&M or Wichita State, there was just never a reason to be particularly concerned), I fully expected Turgeon to deliver in his first press conference.
The fact is Turgeon has been a good coach for an extended period of time.
That doesn’t happen by accident.
If Turgeon wouldn’t have come in and impressed from day one, there’s little chance Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson would have decided to make him the next coach. While smaller schools might have taken a chance on someone with lesser personality or charisma, a program like Maryland would not have needed to take such a risk.
With all of that being said-simply being a good coach will not be enough for Turgeon at this point.
He now needs to be a good coach for the University of Maryland.
It will not be fair to gauge Turgeon’s success based on what Williams accomplished over 22 seasons. Williams was unquestionably the best coach in program history, leading the program to never-before-seen heights, highlighted by the school’s only NCAA Championship in 2002.
But Turgeon knows well that Williams’ legacy will play a role in his ability to succeed in College Park. “I had to feel comfortable that he was going to accept me as the next coach” said the former TAMU coach, “and he has. And that’s real important.”
Should Turgeon be able to replicate his success with the Aggies now with the Terps, he would get off to a quick start in winning over fans in Baltimore and Washington.
Turgeon has won 20 or more games in seven of his last eight seasons and has made the NCAA Tournament in five of his last six.
While he has never advanced beyond the Sweet 16, his 2006 appearance is three seasons more recent than Williams’.
The reality is that simply being a good coach won’t quite be enough to succeed at Maryland.
While the Big-12 is a brutally difficult conference, battles with Kansas and Texas can’t quite gear a coach up for four games against Duke and North Carolina (Turgeon will have that unenviable task in his first season with Maryland).
The harsher reality is that an off-season at Maryland will be much more heavily scrutinized with the Terrapins than it ever would have been with the Aggies or Shockers.
While Texas A&M is a big school, the most significant basketball-related moments arguably happened when the guys from “Dude Perfect” chucked shots from the upper deck at Kyle Field.
A&M simply will never be a basketball school, and nothing happening on the hardwood in the Lone Star State will ever be as significant as what happens on a gridiron.
While WSU has become a significant player on the mid-major level, Wichita is not exactly a media hotbed and the school certainly doesn’t have the same number of current students or alumni, or nearly as large a current or potential fan base.
Maryland will be a much more difficult job.
The only troubling part of the Turgeon hire is his complete lack of connection to the University and nearly complete lack of connection to the Mid-Atlantic area.
To his credit, Turgeon said Wednesday he understood the importance of making a dent in the Mid-Atlantic.+
“I have really good relationships with the people in the area” said Turgeon. “I felt comfortable. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have taken the job. I feel like I’ve been on the phone with a lot of people, not all of them yet, but relationships through Kansas.”
It makes sense that during his time as an assistant for the Jayhawks, Turgeon would have worked the area a bit. He acknowledged that he had recruited current Texas A&M guard Naji Hibbert out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville to College Station. Hibbert is actually a Charm City native whose brother (Hakim Hibbert) played at Towson.
But Turgeon will have to do much more than that in the Maryland area to succeed at Maryland. There has been much pressure from the fanbase for Turgeon to keep at least part of Gary Williams’ staff in tact in order to recognize the significance of the area.
“I know I need to have a staff that has ties in this area up and down the East Coast” , he said Wednesday. “And I have enough ties in the Midwest that I’ll still be able to do some things back in that area. So I don’t know where I am with my staff. I do know they’re going to have ties to this area.”
Retaining assistants Rob Ehsan and Bino Ranson would be a good start in reflecting the importance of the region. While Ehsan is a California native, he has made a significant impact in the Mid-Atlantic area.
New Jersey PG commit Sterling Gibbs has reportedly said keeping his commitment to the Terrapins is at least based in part in Ehsan returning to the staff. Ranson is a Baltimore native whose arrival in College Park immediately helped the Terps nail down another four star prospect in City College’s Nick Faust.
While Turgeon has put together a respectable staff in College Station, it would be a mistake to ignore the significance of the region in completing a new staff in College Park.
My best guess is that Mark Turgeon will find success as the head basketball coach at the University of Maryland. His track record indicates that he won’t have a problem winning almost immediately.
But if it happens, it will happen because Turgeon understands that there is a difference between being a good head coach and a great Maryland coach.
Hopefully Wednesday was the first step down that road.
NOTES: Turgeon’s press conference is available now in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net……Anderson joined Glenn Clark and Thyrl Nelson on “The Mobtown Sports Beat” Tuesday on AM1570 WNST to discuss the hire, that chat is available in the Audio Vault as well……Ehsan, Ranson and Williams’ other assistant Keith Booth were all in attendance for Wednesday’s press conference. Also in attendance were football coach Randy Edsall, soccer coach Sasho Cirovski, women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese, University President Wallace Loh and former Terps F Tahj Holden