The hire brought to an end an ambitious search for a proven successor to Gary Williams, who stunned Terrapins fans, administrators and players alike last Thursday by announcing that he would retire after 22 years as head coach of his alma mater.
While Turgeon, 46, lacks the name recognition of some of the coaches who had been on Maryland’s wish list, such as Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon and Arizona’s Sean Miller, he is respected by his coaching brethren and has led the Aggies to the NCAA tournament in each of his four basketball seasons at the football-crazy university. Turgeon also was named Big 12 coach of the year in each of the past two seasons.
Speaking to reporters who kept a vigil Monday night at Texas A&M, Turgeon recounted the difficult choice he faced in leaving College Station for College Park.
“Marriage was easy for me; I knew I was in love,” Turgeon said. “Going to [Kansas] was easy; that’s where I always wanted to play college basketball. Going to Wichita State [as head basketball coach] was easy. Going to Texas A&M was an easy choice. Today was one of the hardest choicest I’ve had to make because of the young men in that locker room.”
In the end, Turgeon said he was drawn to Maryland because of its great basketball tradition.
“It’s a gut feeling,” Turgeon said. “Both programs are great. I’m a blessed person to have the choice that I had to make today. . . . The one thing I feel good about is I inherited a good program, and I think I’m leaving my best team behind.”
Turgeon posted a 97-40 record at Texas A&M. In each of his four seasons, his teams won at least 24 games.
Hours before the hiring was made official, former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, reached at his home, exulted in reports that Turgeon might take over the Terrapins.
“He’s a good coach that would be an excellent choice, in my opinion,” said Driesell, who coached against Turgeon when they were conference rivals at Georgia State and Jacksonville State, respectively, in the late 1990s. “The Maryland people would really like him.”
Reports of Turgeon’s hiring also drew approval of Len Elmore, a former Maryland star who followed his NBA career with one in law and sports broadcasting.
“He’s focused on the fundamentals and, from what I know, he has been able to recruit and do it the right way,” Elmore said. “I think he could be the right guy for Maryland.”
A former Kansas point guard and protege of North Carolina Coach Roy Williams and longtime NBA and NCAA coach Larry Brown, Turgeon steps into a rebuilding job, in many ways — albeit a job that many coaches would love to have.
Williams, 66, led Maryland to the 2002 NCAA championship, the 2004 ACC tournament championship and a share of the 2010 ACC regular season title.
But this past season was a disappointment, with the Terrapins failing to beat a single ranked opponent and, at 19-14, failing to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament or National Invitation Tournament for the first time since 1993.
Last Wednesday, Jordan Williams, Maryland’s leading scorer and rebounder, confirmed he had signed with an agent, surrendering his college eligibility in the process, in order to take part in the June 23 NBA draft.
Gary Williams announced his resignation the next day. The coach’s decision hadn’t been anticipated, and it came slightly late in the flurry of hiring that typically follows the NCAA tournament. It also presented Anderson with his second major vacancy since assuming the reins of Maryland’s athletic department last fall.
The process of naming a football coach to succeed Ralph Friedgen, whom Anderson let go after 10 years at Maryland, took two weeks. But it was important that the basketball vacancy be filled swiftly to calm anxious alumni and provide stability for Terrapins players who might be considering transferring amid the uncertainty. Dixon, Miller and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey were all considered for the Maryland job, but each chose to stay at his respective university.
On Monday, the focus of the search shifted to Turgeon.
Turgeon’s first order of business will likely be building relationships with the underclassmen on the Terrapins squad. Longer term, his success will likely hinge on his success in recruiting top players to College Park, a facet of the game in which many feel Maryland has lagged behind in recent years.
Said Elmore, “It’s something that’s going to require some diligence in developing relationships in the Baltimore-Washington area and also having a national reach.”
Staff writer Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.