Watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has changed quite a bit for me the past eight years, since Mark Turgeon became the head coach at Maryland.
Watching the teams that scratch, claw and figure a way to get into the Sweet 16 and then go deep in the Tournament, I have calmly — and way less passionately than during the Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams eras — come to a fairly firm conclusion that Turgeon is incapable of matching wits with the sport’s best coaches and winning at crunch time.
Admittedly, what I don’t like about Turgeon and the evolution of his men’s basketball program in College Park, Md., is far different from when I soured on Williams at a similar point in his tenure.
With Williams, my problems were much more about his abrasive style with the media and the notion that he would never recruit the necessary talent to win a national championship. While he proved me wrong to an extent, with an NCAA title during the 2001-02 season, his lack of success after winning his championship was head-scratching. Since that title run in 2002, the Terps have not gotten past a Sweet 16 matchup.
That’s not a problem of short duration; Maryland hasn’t gotten past the Sweet 16 for 17 seasons. Keep in mind that since Maryland beat Indiana for its one crown, the Terps have failed to make it to the Big Dance eight times. That means nine trips to the Tournament. Maryland failed to get out of the first round once, didn’t get past the second round six other times and fell in the Sweet 16 twice. That is not what we grew up being excited and passionate about.
So, you’ll pardon me for getting right to brass tacks in my perception of Turgeon as a coach and how athletic director Damon Evans must take the bull by the horns. I’ll steal the quote about insanity that is attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Turgeon was given an eight-year contract by then-athletic director Kevin Anderson to leave his job at Texas A&M and come to College Park. The cupboard Williams left him was pretty bare, so it wasn’t a huge surprise Turgeon had to dig deep to keep a couple of Williams’ kids on board and fill out the rest of the roster.
But we’ve watched this same movie season after season. Turgeon is now eight years in, a fair enough length of time to assess what we have in the leader of our state team.
Turgeon’s winning percentage — .662, just in between Driesell’s .686 and Williams’ .647 — isn’t the issue. Of course, all the great coaches basically play 10-14 games against lesser-tier teams to build their squad’s resume and get past 20 victories for a place in the Tournament.
The reason Turgeon is making close to $2.75 million a season isn’t to win 70 percent of his games. It’s to win about half of his games against power teams in conference and nonconference play. It’s also part of a big-time coach’s directive to win occasionally on a ranked opponent’s home court.
Turgeon’s victory against Iowa Feb. 19 was his first road victory against a ranked team. He is 1-19 in such matchups. That’s just unacceptable.
The easiest and most prudent thing for Evans to do would be to shake hands and part ways with Turgeon. But there’s the little matter of a four-year extension Anderson gave Turgeon back in October 2016, which keeps Turgeon on the Terps’ bench through the 2022-23 season.
And I do mean it keeps him on the Terps’ bench. That new deal also gave no wiggle room or leverage to the university; there are no provisions for a buyout of the contract.
So what’s an athletic director to do?
In the case of Evans, it’s really this simple. You call in Turgeon for a little heart-to-heart talk. You explain to him that while you know and he knows he’s going to be here through a point that’s a lot closer to the end of this contract, you have the ability to insist on one major change to his coaching staff.
Evans has every right to do this. Turgeon’s teams play offense at such a fundamental level, simply because there is no master plan of how to beat opponents. The Terps have struggled with turnovers, sloppiness and long scoring droughts throughout Turgeon’s tenure. There’s no shame in bringing someone in to help out the offense.
It’s really that simple. Evans needs to push for the basketball equivalent of an offensive coordinator to take the pressure off Turgeon before the attrition of interest in the program gets to the level of indifference.
The times call for a drastic play call by Maryland’s athletic director to get the program back to an elite level.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 253: April 2019