Mark Turgeon wasn’t the obvious choice, but he might be the right one for Maryland


In leaving Texas A&M, Mark Turgeon said the opportunity to coach Maryland was “just too good an offer.” (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
John Feinstein
Columnist May 10, 2011

Sometimes, the best hire is the one you don’t make.

Almost 50 years ago, when Frank McGuire left North Carolina for the NBA, very few Tar Heel supporters wanted to see his quiet, unassuming, 30-year-old assistant take his place. The exception was the school’s chancellor, who decided to give Dean Smith first crack at the job.

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

In 1980, Duke Athletic Director Tom Butters was being pushed by Bob Knight to hire one of Knight’s former assistants: Texas Coach Bob Weltlich. Butters’ gut told him the unknown coach at Army with the impossible-to-pronounce name was the right guy, but he didn’t think he could hire a coach from that level who had just gone 9-17. So he thanked Mike Krzyzewski for coming down for a second interview and sent him back to the airport, intending to call Weltlich.

When Steve Vacendak, Butters’ top lieutenant, asked him why he had sent Krzyzewski home, Butters said: “I think I’d get crushed for hiring him with his record and lack of experience.”

“Do you think he’s the best coach for the job?”

“Absolutely.”

The way Butters told the story, that’s when he made his decision. He sent Vacendak to the airport to bring Krzyzewski back and offered him the job. He never called Weltlich.

Mark Turgeon is not a good hire for Maryland; he’s a great hire. There are plenty of numbers to prove it, but the most impressive one is this: He went to four straight NCAA tournaments at a school that couldn’t care less about basketball in a league that has been at least as competitive as the ACC — maybe more so — during that period.

Here is the list of ACC coaches who have been in the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons: Krzyzewski.

If Maryland fans have learned anything in recent years, it is that you can’t take making it to the tournament for granted. They had become spoiled when Gary Williams got the Terrapins there for 11 straight seasons. It hasn’t been so easy since then: three bids in seven years.

Turgeon can coach. He can also recruit. You think it’s easy to get good players to go to College Station, Tex., to play basketball? He’s young, 46, two years older than Williams was when he arrived in College Park in 1989. He has plenty of pedigree, having played and coached under Larry Brown and coached under Roy Williams. No, he won’t cry like Ol’ Roy or declare his kids to be the greatest group of young men assembled since the first group of astronauts.

He will just coach the hell out of them.

Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson spent this past weekend trying to hire a coach who would win the news conference. Doing so might have been especially important to Anderson for two reasons: He lost the news conference a few months ago, when his fan base thought it was getting Mike Leach as the new football coach and instead got Randy Edsall. Time will tell whether that decision turns out to be fortunate for Maryland. What’s more, the basketball job at Maryland is without doubt the most important job on campus — including that of university president — and the new coach was going to follow the guy for whom the basketball court is about to be named.

And so the names flew around the Internet and the airwaves and the breakfast nooks all weekend: Sean Miller, Mike Brey, Jay Wright, Jamie Dixon and even Brad Stevens. If any one of those five had wanted the Maryland job, he would be sitting next to Anderson on Wednesday afternoon wearing a baseball cap with a red ‘M’ on it.

In one form or another, they all said no. It doesn’t matter why. The bottom line is all have good jobs at good schools where their families are settled.

Turgeon will not be Gary Williams because no one is going to be Gary Williams. The relationship between Williams and Maryland was unique: He was the prodigal son returned home to save the family, and he did exactly that. One of the reasons some of us chafed — okay, got angry — over the recent whining that Williams wasn’t winning enough was that we remembered how dire things were when he took over.

Turgeon is walking into a far better situation than his predecessor did. There is no NCAA investigation hanging over his head. There is a national championship banner hanging in Comcast Center, which is absolute proof that Maryland can scale any and all heights in college basketball.

The playing cupboard isn’t as full as Williams would have liked, in large part because Jordan Williams decided to pass up his final two years of college to be part of the NBA lockout next fall. But there are good young guards in the program already and more scheduled to arrive next fall. Turgeon will have to re-recruit them because that’s the way the game is played, but they’ll be at Maryland once all the appropriate bowing and scraping is done to make them and their posses happy.

Turgeon will win at Maryland. Of course, until he does, a lot of Terps fans will moan and groan about the selection and whine about how their school doesn’t get enough respect.

Seriously folks, get over it.

A persecution complex is a long-cherished tradition for many at Maryland. No one embodied that more than Williams, who liked to say that Maryland was “the Siberia of the ACC,” which presumably makes Boston College the North Pole.

On the night Maryland won the national championship in Atlanta, a large group of fans stood a few yards from Chris Wilcox screaming as he hugged his teammates. They were not yelling, “Way to go Chris, we did it, we won the national championship!”

Not even close. “Wilcox, you have to come back next year; we have to do this again!”

So much for enjoying the greatest achievement in school history.

No doubt those same people will point out that Turgeon has never been past the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. They’ll lament that Maryland couldn’t find a way to entice Stevens or Miller or Brey or Wright or Dixon.

They will be wrong. Maryland’s last basketball coach hadn’t been past the Sweet 16 when he arrived in College Park either. He did okay. Check the banners in the rafters next season and the name on the court.

Maryland may not have gotten its first choice to replace Gary Williams but it may very well have gotten the best choice. The point isn’t to win the press conference. It is to win championships. Mark Turgeon can do that.

For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com

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