It’s heartening fifth, sixth or 13th choice Mark Turgeon took Gary Williams’s old job. Because if the Texas A&M coach had turned down Maryland, I would hate to be Kevin Anderson today.
High-profile names who have either outright rejected the Maryland men’s basketball job, refused to enter into conversations with the athletic director about the opening or flat-out used Anderson and the school for a salary bump: Arizona’s Sean Miller, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon and Butler’s Brad Stevens.
The fallback who took the gig Monday night? Turgeon, whose Aggie and Wichita State programs have been tournament-tested and clean. Still, Turgeon isn’t that name Garyland so covets and Anderson has unsuccessfully courted — and not in basketball alone.
In his pursuit of an It Guy to generate new revenue streams for the university’s athletic coffers, Anderson has come across as the gym-class dreamer who thinks he has a shot with the homecoming queen — only to be shot down by her and the members of her court. Out of options on prom night, he finally texts his biology lab partner, who thought he would never ask.
Yes, Randy Edsall, whom Anderson hired after firing football coach Ralph Friedgen, is a slightly more attractive candidate than that. But as buzz quotient goes, he’s neither former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach nor Auburn offensive guru Gus Malzahn.
Turgeon is a good, experienced find. Maryland is lucky to have him. But unless you’re a huge Kansas fan and remember him as Larry Brown’s graduate assistant on the “Danny and the Miracles” title team of 1988, he lacks the marquee value of, say, Wright or Brey.
That doesn’t sit well with a restless and occasionally unrealistic fan base. Given all the rejection lately, they might just wonder what state-university coaching job Anderson is pitching: Maryland’s or UMBC’s?
So there are two ways to interpret what’s gone on in College Park over the past four months. The first is that the new athletic director is beyond his depth and has no idea what’s necessary to land first-rate, high-profile coaching talent.
The second is that this has been a public litmus test of the national relevance of Maryland athletics, and the results show that the coaching profession’s best and brightest just don’t consider Terrapin Nation — and, by association, the ACC — the big time.
The true turtle believers want to cling to the former because the latter is too sobering to consider.
But let’s think about it. For the previous 10 years, the football program was led by Friedgen, an alum who for whatever reason had never been given a chance by anyone else, despite being an accomplished offensive coordinator. The Fridge was taking over after the failed tenure of Ron Vanderlinden, whom former athletic director Debbie Yow had to outbid exactly no one to hire. So remember back when football coaches were lining up to coach in College Park? Me neither.
But it’s a basketball school, right? Okay, for the past 22 seasons, the hoops program was Gary’s, and he took the job as an act of charity to his probation-scarred alma mater. The previous coach was hired out of high school. And his predecessor held the job for 18 years.
So it has been a while since we’ve had any real evidence of the perceived quality of these jobs, but we’re getting it now. If Miller were still at Xavier and had to choose between Arizona and Maryland, he might choose the Terps. But the difference between the jobs isn’t so great that he’s going to pull up stakes after laying a solid foundation in Tucson the past two years.
And the way the college basketball landscape has shifted, even shiny Comcast Center doesn’t have any more allure than Hinkle Fieldhouse or Siegel Center.
Think about that. Butler’s Stevens and VCU’s Shaka Smart aren’t interviewing anywhere. We’ve arrived at such a parity-stricken time in the college game that Horizon League and Colonial Athletic Association schools are paying millions to prevent their coaches from leaving.
That all worked against Anderson, who was essentially told by candidates that what Maryland has to offer isn’t as alluring as the athletic director apparently thinks.
Brey, rumored forever to want the Maryland job, called off a meeting between the two to announce he was staying at Notre Dame, where basketball will never be king and the on-campus facility pales in comparison to Comcast Center.
It was bogusly reported over the weekend that Miller actually accepted the job after a meeting with Anderson in Las Vegas on Saturday. Whatever Anderson said in that meeting either made Miller have second thoughts, made Arizona pony up a contract extension, or both.
Either way, Anderson left the Strip without his man, and all the glitz of a high-profile name behind.
Maybe it’s just as well Turgeon is the guy. He has paid his dues and done it the right way. Though he doesn’t have the stature of the coaches for whom Anderson and the ever-vigilant boosters cooed and pined, he is the safe choice to follow a legend. He also might have the one essential quality for any Anderson hire from now on:
Unlike the rest, he won’t break the athletic director’s heart. He actually wanted the job.