In the March 2016 print issue of PressBox, I made my earliest reference (that I can document anyway) to the concept of “Turgatory.” I don’t mention that because I want credit for inventing the term (who possibly knows?) or even because I think it’s particularly clever.
I reference it because, you guys, that was five years ago. Five years ago we were in a place where we felt like the basketball coach wasn’t good enough to feel confident in him and wasn’t bad enough to feel strongly that he should be fired either.
FIVE YEARS! “Stranger Things” didn’t exist yet. We still assumed Kim Kardashian would be the reason KimYe wouldn’t work. Tom Brady had just lost in the AFC championship game, likely the sign that the end was near. Buck Showalter hadn’t let a season end with Zack Britton still waiting in the bullpen!
Let’s handle the micro before we get to the macro. In the micro, there was little expected of Maryland basketball this season, and the Terps were occasionally fun to watch during a season in which we fraudulently believed they were playing in the toughest conference in the country. They didn’t play particularly well, but they also ran into an Alabama team playing absolutely out of their minds March 22. People had opinions about it all on the internet.
And now, the macro.
In the macro, we’re still here. If you care about Maryland basketball, there’s just no way to have a strong emotion or gut feeling about the state of the program backed by evidence — and there hasn’t been for an extraordinarily long time. For 10 years, the program has won plenty of regular-season games, even occasionally beating good teams, only to struggle in the postseason and fail to win a significant NCAA Tournament game.
(Sure, the Terps defeated a single-digit seed for the first time under Turgeon this year. So let’s define it in a different way: they’ve never defeated a team in the NCAA Tournament that was ranked in the final top 25 of the season.)
For all of those who scream about the school firing Mark Turgeon, the coach has plenty of emotional defenders as well. Neither opinion can truly be justified by evidence. In the same way that many of us went into the Alabama game thinking the Terps COULD win, there is enough reason to believe the coach COULD someday have the right combination of players to finally win something of significance under their current head coach. And it COULD have been last year had the season finished.
There is regular comparison made to Villanova’s Jay Wright by supporters of Turgeon. But even Wright’s disappointing first 10 seasons in Philadelphia included a Final Four run and more significant postseason wins than a victory against a No. 7 seed. But the comparison is close enough (bolstered by the “what if” factor of the 2020 postseason) to be apt. There’s no way to defend Turgeon with evidence.
But there’s no real way to crucify him, either. This isn’t a program’s “rock bottom.” This is respectable enough. That wouldn’t seem an appropriate standard for a major basketball program, but it’s also relevant in context. Boston College basketball exists! DePaul is real. Washington State is a thing. There are worse things than six NCAA Tournaments in a seven-year span (counting 2019-20), even if the five tournaments that took place all resulted in early exits.
So where does that leave us? Exactly where we were five years ago. Should Maryland “fire” Mark Turgeon? How do we possibly answer that question? Probably not? There’s been no “fireable offense,” per se. Has he earned the extension he’ll almost certainly want with only two years left on his contract? I don’t think I could possibly say yes to that either.
So what then? Should the school simply tell him they don’t intend to extend him and hope that he gets an opportunity elsewhere that he chooses to take instead? If that’s what they’re hoping for, why not just fire him?
We’ve been asking some variation of this question for five friggin’ years. Look, the answer is PROBABLY giving the coach a one-year extension and checking the temperature again a year from now. We’ll see if Darryl Morsell chooses to accept a fifth year of eligibility and if Aaron Wiggins (or maybe Donta Scott?) chooses the professional route. If all return mixed with a couple of impact freshmen (and maybe a transfer or two), perhaps a more significant run could be had a year from now that would make the school feel more justified in committing to an extension.
Or, far more likely, not everything will come together in the exact way we described and we’ll be in the exact same spot a year from now, just like we’ve been for the last five years.
It’s why we can’t get away from the “Turgatory” concept. We’re not saying Maryland needed to have won a national championship in his first decade. We’re saying they needed to do something in the postseason that would allow us to believe it was possible they COULD win a championship. We don’t have it. And for a significant college basketball program (you might fairly ask if this still qualifies), that shouldn’t be enough.
Photo Credit: 2021 NCAA Photos