But fear will hardly be the only relevant emotion Saturday at Comcast Center, where North Carolina’s Williams and Maryland’s Turgeon — mentor and protege — meet for the first time as head coaches. At least until tip-off, the sideline where coaches pace and rant will be awash in pride and gratitude, admiration and respect in the first of the teams’ two regular season matchups, which are sure to test each coach’s ability to compartmentalize.
Williams, 61, the more emotive of the two, didn’t sidestep the inevitable awkwardness when talking to reporters Friday.
“He’s part family,” Williams said of Turgeon, 46, whom he has nurtured and cheered since Turgeon was a driven young assistant on Williams’s Kansas staff from 1988 to 1992. “I’m going to have some bad thoughts about competing against him.”
Turgeon was more circumspect.
“Once the game starts, you don’t even think about who’s coaching the other team; you just coach,” Turgeon said. “When I took this job, I knew I was going to have to coach against him.”
Williams played a significant role in Turgeon’s decision to leave Texas A&M for Maryland. Williams never told him what to do, insisting he’d back whatever decision Turgeon made. But “at least 25 times,” Turgeon recalled, Williams told him that Maryland was one of the top 10 coaching jobs in the country.
“You deserve one of these jobs, and you’d be foolish not to take it,” Turgeon remembers Williams saying.
Throughout Turgeon’s rise through the coaching ranks, Williams’s counsel has been significant, as has that of his coach at Kansas, Larry Brown.
An assistant to Brown following his graduation from Kansas, Turgeon persuaded Williams to keep him on his staff after Williams parted with his mentor of 10 years, North Carolina’s Dean Smith, to take the Kansas job in 1988.
On Friday, Williams made it sound as if it were Turgeon who did him the favor, rather than the reverse.
“I was being selfish [in keeping him on] because I thought he’d really help us,” Williams said of Turgeon. “I needed him on my staff. . . . It was one of the luckiest and best decisions I ever made in my life.”
Among Turgeon’s early assignments in Lawrence was coaching the Jayhawks’ junior-varsity team. After a particularly painful loss, he went to Williams and confessed he feared he’d never be a great coach.
“I’m not you, and I’m not Larry Brown,” the 24-year-old Turgeon told his boss.
“That’s your problem right there!” Williams replied, and encouraged his assistant to forge his own coaching persona.
Two decades later, Turgeon said he still hears traces of Williams’s voice, as well as that of Brown’s, in his own during the occasional practice.
“I try to take the best of what coaches have taught me,” Turgeon said.
Friday morning, Turgeon heard Williams’s voice directly. The Hall of Fame coach phoned his protege to talk about Maryland’s double-overtime loss at Miami on Wednesday night, in which Turgeon was ejected with just more than seven minutes remaining in regulation after drawing two rapid-fire technical fouls.