A funny thing happened on Turgeon's way to Maryland

May 11, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

COLLEGE PARK — — To hear Mark Turgeon at his introductory news conference Wednesday, how he became Maryland's new basketball coach is something out of a sit-com.

The story begins last week, not 24 hours after Gary Williams dropped the bombshell that he was leaving as Terps coach after 22 seasons.

Turgeon got a call the next morning asking if he'd be interested in the job. In so many words, he said: Hell, yes. After hanging up and practically levitating to the ceiling, he sat down with his wife, Ann, told her about the opening and said: "We might have a shot there."

So what do you do if you're coaching hoops at Texas A&M — where all they care about is football and who's got the biggest pickup truck — and someone might offer you one of the top 10 college coaching jobs in the country?

Right: You head off on a family camping trip.

To the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Where there's no cell phone service.

"No cell service starting Friday at 1 o'clock until Sunday at 1 o'clock," Turgeon explained. "I could drive up to the top of a mountain and use my cousin's cell ... but I couldn't get a hold of anybody."

This is not generally considered a restful way to begin a vacation.

Oh, don't get me wrong here. It's nice to get away with the wife and kids. And Pennsylvania's lovely this time of year. The trees are budding. The air is fresh. You can really relax there.

But not when someone might be offering you a job that pays $2.5 million. To coach in one of the top college basketball conferences in the country. In a top TV market just minutes from the nation's capital.

And now you can't get anyone on the phone, because you might as well be camping in the Himalayas.

But wait.

It gets worse.

"In the meantime," Turgeon said, "I get a flat tire in our mini-van driving up and down the mountain. So Sunday morning, I'm changing a tire out in the middle of nowhere."

Around 1 p.m. he finally got cell phone service. He called Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson and left a message, basically asking: So what's going on with the job search?

An hour or so later, Anderson called back.

"I made a mistake. I said I was in Pittsburgh," Turgeon recalled. "Kevin said: 'I'm driving to Pittsburgh to see you right away.'"

In his heart of hearts, Turgeon had to be flattered.

The big man, Maryland's major-domo of sports, was willing to jump in a car and drive six hours to interview him. It had to give him a good feeling about his chances of winning the job.

But then Turgeon, who seems as down-to-earth as they come, began worrying about what kind of first impression he'd make on his possible future boss, seeing as how the camping trip had left him looking about as well-groomed and sharply dressed as the Unabomber.

"It's been a long weekend, I got my three kids," he recalled thinking. "I didn't know I was going to be interviewed for the Maryland job. I haven't shaved. …

"I said to Kevin: 'All I have is sweats, shorts and Texas A&M shirts. Are you OK with that?' He said: 'Yeah, I'll come in jeans and a sweater."

So the two men met in a Pittsburgh hotel room. But not before Turgeon dashed out to a store to buy a red piece of clothing to show Anderson he wasn't a dunce and knew something about Maryland tradition.

"I actually found a Kansas City Chiefs shirt," Turgeon said. "But I got to be careful because of the Ravens and the Redskins here. I put it over my Texas A&M shirt, so he didn't have to look at Texas A&M gear during the interview."

The two men talked for quite a while. And when he left the meeting, Turgeon said, "I knew it was my job to take."

Whew. I hope he relaxed with a couple of beers that night. Because I was exhausted just listening to how it all unfolded.

All of this he explained Wednesday in one of the most impressive introductory news conferences I've seen from a coach in a long time.

He said all the right things, Mark Turgeon did. He spoke glowingly about Maryland's tradition and paid homage to Gary Williams. ("He did it with class, he did it with dignity, he did it the right way.")

He said, "My style of play is winning," and promised "I'm going to recruit like crazy .. I'll do whatever I can to take advantage of this great area for high school basketball and to use my connections all around the country."

He admitted to being "tremendously demanding" of his players and said: "I'm not going to say I'm not going to scream and yell, I do. But I'm not going to curse them. I'm not going to … disrespect them."

And then the news conference was over and the Mark Turgeon era at College Park was officially underway, with the new coach hustling off to do TV interviews, meet with his players and field phone calls from prospective members of his coaching staff.

Presumably in a place with cell phone service.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on 1370 AM Sports.)

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