Maryland needs a new men’s basketball coach.
Who, then, should take over a program with the proven potential to contend for a national championship but a recent track record of postseason disappointment?
Let’s start with a name that has come up regularly since Turgeon departed Dec. 3: Rick Pitino. And let’s also say this: no, no and no.
That is one of two important reasons Pitino shouldn’t be in the conversation. He carries more baggage than a cross-country flight. That’s not to mention his vow not to leave Providence days before he took the New York Knicks coaching job and his vow not to leave Kentucky days before he became coach/general manager/emperor of the Boston Celtics.
Pitino can be trusted to do one thing — win. Many Maryland fans would sign up for that in a heartbeat. But at an athletic department with a checkered recent past, Pitino should be completely out of bounds, even though he would walk to College Park if the phone rang.
There’s one other thing: Pitino would be 70 before coaching a game at Maryland. If you want to hire an older coach with a great track record — and no baggage — bring back Gary Williams. Sure, he’s almost 77, but he looks 50 and no one would get the fan base more juiced. Let him designate a coach-in-waiting, get the program rolling again and then return to the retirement he has enjoyed for the past 11 years.
Which leads to this: At the least, Williams should play a prominent role in deciding who the next coach will be. How’s this for a search committee? Williams as chairman, along with Tom McMillen, Buck Williams, Greg Manning, Joe Smith, Keith Booth, Steve Blake, Ed Tapscott and Fran Dunphy. The only non-Maryland grads on the list are Tapscott and Dunphy — both former Williams assistants and successful college coaches. I would make Lefty Driesell the co-chair if he wasn’t 90 and if travel wasn’t difficult for him, but pipe him in on conference calls when the committee meets.
Naturally, that’s not what Maryland’s doing. It has already gone the 21st-century route of hiring a search firm. Why athletic departments waste money on these headhunters, I have no idea. Why have an athletic director if his or her job isn’t to hire prominent coaches? Search firms always have an agenda: They almost certainly won’t look inside a coaching staff because they can’t take a bow if someone the school already knows about gets the job. What’s more, they are likely to recommend someone who will then be in their debt. It’s a racket — period.
Some athletic directors will tell you search firms are hired to do screening and present an initial list. That’s what a search committee with ties to the school — and no agenda — should be doing. And a committee like the one I suggested would work for free.
Botching the first step doesn’t mean Maryland can’t hire the right coach. This will be Damon Evans’s first real test as athletic director because hiring Michael Locksley in the wake of the DJ Durkin debacle was a no-brainer.
So who should be on the list of potential hires? In no particular order, my list includes Providence’s Ed Cooley, Southern Cal’s Andy Enfield, Utah State’s Ryan Odom and North Carolina Central’s LeVelle Moton — an outside-the-box candidate who would leave a lot of Maryland boosters screaming, which is exactly why he should be seriously considered. Finally there’s Juan Dixon, who would be part of my imaginary search committee if he wasn’t coaching Coppin State.
Enfield has done terrific work at USC, where he was hired nine years ago after coaching Florida Gulf Coast to the 2013 Sweet 16 (and upsetting second-seeded Georgetown in the first round). The Trojans were 17-2 through Wednesday and will make the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in seven seasons — and it would be five if there had been a tournament in 2020. They also reached the Elite Eight a year ago.
Enfield is relatively young at 52, and he has ties to the area, having starred at Johns Hopkins. Would he leave Los Angeles to come back to the East Coast? Says here, yes.
Cooley is also 52 and has built a consistent program in 11 seasons at Providence, including a 17-2 record this year. The Friars will make the tournament for the sixth time under Cooley — and they would have been in the 2020 tournament had it been held.
Odom is 47 and is well-known in College Park because of his success in five seasons at Maryland Baltimore County, where he turned around a moribund program and pulled the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history when the 16th-seeded Retrievers stunned top-seeded Virginia in 2018.
Odom is in his first season at Utah State but probably would jump at the chance to come east to a school that his dad, Dave, regularly competed against as a Virginia assistant and then as the head coach at Wake Forest.
Then there’s Moton, who also is 47 and is in his 13th season at NCCU, his alma mater. He has taken the Eagles to the NCAAs four times from a one-bid league. He’s also one of the more thoughtful coaches in the country, someone who would probably recruit very well at Maryland. Evans might not have the guts to make a bold hire like that — because of the many fans who would demand to know why the school couldn’t land a bigger name.
That was the way Duke people reacted when Mike Krzyzewski was hired. It was also the reaction of North Carolina fans when a 30-year-old assistant named Dean Smith was hired to succeed Frank McGuire, and of Indiana fans when a young coach named Bob Knight was chosen. They all worked out pretty well.
Last, but not least, is Dixon. In some ways, he would be the perfect hire. He’s a Maryland hero, the star of the 2002 national championship team, a Cinderella story from Baltimore. At 43, he has five years of Division I head coaching experience.
Here’s the problem: He has never had a winning season. Records can be deceiving at historically Black colleges and universities because they have to play a slew of nonconference guarantee games on the road. But Dixon is 30-34 in MEAC games — 3-1 this season — and that might make it tough to justify his hiring.
Still, Maryland needs to pick a coach based not on his résumé or on what some headhunter says but on what Evans feels in his gut. Any of the five men mentioned above would be a good hire. Cooley and Enfield have the best résumés, Odom understands the job and market well, Moton is the hidden gem, and Dixon would be a returning hero.
At his introductory news conference in 2018, Evans claimed Maryland was “going to take over this conference.” Surely he wasn’t suggesting Maryland would ever take over the Big Ten in football. That leaves basketball. Evans is being paid more than $700,000 per year. It’s time for him to earn that money.