Before Mark Turgeon became a blip on Maryland’s radar during its frantic four-day coaching search, I admittedly knew way more about former NHL center Pierre Turgeon than I did about the former Texas A&M coach who was introduced as Maryland’s men’s basketball coach on Wednesday afternoon.
I might be in rare company around here when it comes to my appreciation for the Turgeon who scored 515 goals in his long NHL career, but I know I was in the majority when I said “Who?” after news broke that the Terps had hired the Turgeon who steered Texas A&M to four straight NCAA tournament berths.
Of course, there was temptation to bash the coaching search because it didn’t net the Terps a big-name hire such as Sean Miller, Brad Stevens, Jamie Dixon or Shaka Smart. But I wanted to do my homework on this no-name coach -- to me at least -- before passing judgment (plus I was vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico this weekend and had higher priorities such as getting a tan and finding the perfect margarita).
The more I learn about Turgeon, the more I like him.
It’s hard to argue with his track record. Turgeon is said to be a master of Xs and Os -- his Xs and Os will move at a slower and more controlled pace than those of Gary Williams, though -- and he quickly built winning mid-major programs at Jacksonville State and Wichita State. An overhaul isn’t needed in College Park, so it’s also worth noting that he maintained the successful program he inherited at Texas A&M.
Turgeon left Texas A&M because he believes he can make it to the Final Four with our local talent. And he has already started building relationships with Maryland AAU coaches in an attempt to reopen the pipeline of highly-regarded high school talent that had nearly rusted shut in Williams’ final years on the job.
He told ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt on Monday that he considered coaching basketball at Maryland to be a “top-10 or 15 job in the country or potentially better with so many players in the area.”
Then Turgeon hit a home run at his introductory press conference. He came off as a coach who has his players’ backs. He came off as someone who wants to build a winning program the right way (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). And he came off as a regular guy with a pretty good sense of humor.
The 46-year-old coach cracked up the crowd with a few of his responses, and he had us laughing in The Baltimore Sun’s sports department, too, when he threw a grenade at former AD and Williams nemesis Debbie Yow. That “us against them” rallying cry will go a long way with Williams’ many supporters.
His answer to a question about his teams’ preferred style of play -- “Winning,” he quipped -- will go a long way with Charlie Sheen supporters, too, even if it might not have been intentional.
But the quote that stands out most from his first rendezvous with the local media was this one: “If you have tickets, keep 'em. If you don't, buy 'em, because we're going to do some great things here."
I still have a lot to learn about Turgeon. But here’s one thing I know so far: He is off to a good start.