The 46-year-old who will be given the keys to the University of Maryland men’s basketball program, Mark Turgeon, is a Roy Williams disciple who possesses many of the qualities of another Williams, the recently retired Terrapins coach whom Turgeon will replace.
Much like Gary Williams, who abruptly retired Thursday after 22 seasons at his alma mater, Turgeon, in the eyes of many, is an excellent bench coach who maximizes the talents of his players. But perhaps above all else, he is a ferocious competitor. During his honeymoon, Turgeon’s wife, Ann, beat him four out of six in backgammon, according to the Kansas City Star.
Turgeon did not talk to her at all during dinner.
Born in Kansas, Turgeon played for the Jayhawks and was an assistant in Lawrence under Roy Williams. Turgeon’s head coaching career is highlighted by leading Wichita State to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in 2006 and Texas A&M to the NCAA tournament in each of his four seasons in College Station.
“I just feel there is not anybody you are going to find to get more out of talent than Mark,” said Jim Schaus, the athletic director who hired Turgeon at Wichita State and who now holds the same position at Ohio University. “He has a great knack for motivating players and getting a team to play together. He is as good a coach as anybody in the country. He is just really solid and steady and he does things the right way.”
Former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, 79, coached against Turgeon in 1998-2000 — the period when Driesell’s tenure at Georgia State overlapped with that of Turgeon’s at Jacksonville State. Driesell called Turgeon a “good coach” and an “excellent” choice by Maryland.
“He’s a great young man, a great person and an excellent coach,” Driesell said of Turgeon, who was a first-year head coach when their teams first met in 1998. “I coached against his teams at Jacksonville State; they were in our league.
“He ran the pick-and-roll really well. And his teams played hard. I liked their offense, and they played good defense.”
Schaus hired Turgeon in 2000 after he had spent just two seasons at Jacksonville State. What impressed the athletic director immediately was the clear plan Turgeon articulated about how he planned to rebuild a struggling Wichita State program. Improvement was consistent; the Shockers improved their win total in each of the first six seasons under Turgeon.
“He is tenacious,” Schaus said. “He is just really driven. He wants to build, wants to win and is not satisfied with anything less than excellence and success. But he was also committed to doing it the right way. Everything from compliance to academics to taking care of the student-athletes, the whole package was done right.”
Doug Elgin, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference, said Turgeon was a “big-picture guy. He worked his [butt] off. He willed Wichita State to do better. He is someone who led and inspired student-athletes. He is the whole package and will do an excellent job at Maryland.”
At Texas A&M, Turgeon kept the Aggies as competitive as they were under his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, whose departure to Kentucky enabled Turgeon to get the Texas A&M job. Turgeon won at least 24 games in each of his four seasons, compiling a 97-40 overall record in College Station.
This past season, the Aggies lost to Florida State, 57-50, in a defensive-oriented NCAA tournament first-round game. Defense was one of the hallmarks of Turgeon’s Texas A&M teams. He succeeded despite the challenges of recruiting to a football school in a football-crazed state.
“Mark Turgeon achieved recruiting success at Texas A&M by developing relationships early and making strong evaluations,” ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep said. “The Aggies tend to do a nice job with bigs and his recruits have consistently improved during their time at College Station.”
At Maryland, he will be recruiting in a fertile recruiting territory that consistently produces top-tier Division I players. Relationships with local summer-league power brokers will be key. So will persistence; here is what Turgeon told the Kansas City Star five years ago:
“You just have to fight in recruiting,” Turgeon said. “You have to force yourself to hate the other school. It’s crazy. I always tell myself not to let recruiting get personal. But once a year, there’s a player that you want badly, and it does get personal with him and his family. I start to love that player. And if I lose that player, I never get over it.”
Keith Stevens, the director of the Team Takeover summer league program, said he feels Turgeon can make an immediate impact on the local recruiting trail.
“He is one of those guys that you know is going to be active on the recruiting trail and he’s got a personality that is going to make parents feel comfortable releasing their kids into his hands,” Stevens said.
Stevens said he has a good relationship with Turgeon even though he has never sent any of his team’s players to Turgeon’s programs, adding that “I think they know my program is one of the programs they will be able to recruit and we’ll do anything we can for them to be successful.”
Staff writers Liz Clarke and Mark Giannotto contributed to this report.