Terps fans aren't going to warm up to Turgeon overnight

May 10, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

COLLEGE PARK — — In the shadow of The House That Gary Built (a.k.a. Comcast Center), University of Maryland students hustled between classes and munched on Big Mac's in the student union Tuesday afternoon, seemingly oblivious to the latest headlines out of an athletic department that has been making a lot of them over the past year.

There is a buzz on campus, but it's because finals week is getting underway, not because former Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon was hired Monday to replace legendary men's basketball coach Gary Williams.

"I think the lack of buzz is because not many people know his name,'' said student sportscaster Scott Kornberg. "He's kind of similar to Gary Williams. He's a good X's and O's coach. I think when people see how hard he works — and how much he is like Gary — there will be more buzz, but that will be a little bit down the road."

There are a number of reasons why it's going to take some time for the student body to warm up to Turgeon, not the least of which is the perception that athletic director Kevin Anderson had to cross several higher-profile coaches off his wish list. Anderson may have created some outsized expectations when he rushed out to Las Vegas Saturday to talk to Arizona's Sean Miller. He was also believed to have interest in Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon and at least a couple of other bigger names, but it would not be fair to characterize Turgeon as a consolation prize.

He turned around a struggling program at Wichita State and just ran off a string of four NCAA tournament appearances at Texas A&M, a football school that had never before gone to the Big Dance more than two years in a row.

"Everyone knows the guy wasn't the first choice,'' said student body president Steve Glickman, "but I don't think it's a bad choice. I think we found a guy who is a proven winner, but he's definitely a safe choice for the school."

Indeed, for the second time in Anderson's short tenure, he went with a solid program builder after the media was awash with speculation about sexier candidates. Miller appeared to be the preferred option because of his terrific record at both Xavier and Arizona and because of his East Coast recruiting connections, but Anderson said he never actually offered him the job.

Whether you believe that or not, what happened in Vegas remained in Vegas and Anderson went with the Gary clone — the former college playmaker (at Kansas) who knows the game in and out and never lost his competitive intensity. It would have been nice if he was a household name in Maryland, because of the guy he's replacing, but there's no question that he knows how to run a basketball program.

"I think it was a good hire," said sophomore Josh Terc, who clearly studies some basketball along with his other subjects. "He took over at A&M after Billy Gillespie left to go to Kentucky and did a great job. He's a relatively young guy in his mid-40s. It's going to be tough following Gary — with his legacy — but it comes down to wins and losses."

Turgeon won't have a problem with name recognition after he leads his first Terrapins team onto the court at Comcast Center six months from now, but Anderson could have made it easier on himself by convincing a higher profile coach to take the job. New football coach Randy Edsall and Turgeon appear to be safe hires with solid upsides, but they both are going to need time to rebuild their programs.

Until they do that — and have success — there will be no way for fans and boosters to truly judge whether Anderson made the right choices. Until then, there will be a lot of people who judge him on the coaches he didn't hire instead of the ones he did.

This hire, in particular, is going to be scrutinized for a long time because basketball is king at Maryland and the guy who is being replaced as men's basketball coach made it so.

"I hope we can play well and he [Turgeon] can live up to Gary,'' said sophomore Jonathan Bui. "Next year is going to be a rebuilding year for us, but the students here are all about supporting the team."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" on Friday's at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and WBAL.com.

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