Only in college basketball can one see a wide range of names floated around for one job to find that the man who actually gets it is nowhere to be found on the list of initial candidates. So it was at Maryland after Gary Williams announced his emotional retirement a week ago today, as the following days provided speculation with a Who's Who of the coaching fraternity that included such luminaries as Jay Wright, Jamie Dixon, Mike Brey, Sean Miller, Tubby Smith and Shaka Smart. Hardly anyone expected the choice in College Park to be Mark Turgeon, he of Wichita State and (most recently) Texas A&M fame after each of the aforementioned coaches turned the Terps down. However, just like Steve Lavin proved a year ago when he left the broadcast booth at ESPN to replace Norm Roberts at St. John's, sometimes the dark horse candidate turns out to be the best possible hire; and if you look at what Turgeon has managed to accomplish in thirteen years as a Division I head man, you'll think the same thing.
Turgeon brings a record of 249-158 into College Park, along with a pedigree unlike any other in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The new coach played under Larry Brown at Kansas; where he later served as an assistant under Roy Williams, whom he will now consider an adversary at North Carolina. Not only that, but the affable Turgeon injects a presence of youth (he just turned 46 in February) into a team that shares Turgeon's mix of youth and experience; led by guard Sean Mosley, who enters his senior year. Turgeon may be immediately impacted by the loss of Jordan Williams to the NBA draft and the decommitments of 2011 recruits Sterling Gibbs and Nick Faust, but don't expect him to be hamstrung for long, as he has managed to recruit top-level talent that turns itself into potential All-Americans; with Texas A&M's Khris Middleton being a prime example of that characteristic that Turgeon perfected as a head coach in the Missouri Valley Conference, a league notorious for turning overlooked prospects into future stars.
Finally, another thing that stands out about Turgeon is his self-admitted brutal honesty. Such an aspect is lacking in most coaches these days; and aside from Mike Rice or Rick Pitino, I personally have yet to see so much of it in a head coach anywhere in the country. Here's an interesting display of it from Turgeon's introductory press conference Wednesday:
"The hardest part for me, if you know anything about me, was having to tell my players I wasn't coming back. I followed a local legend in Texas in Billy Gillispie. (now the coach at Texas Tech) He was loved like no coach I've ever been around and I fought through that. It was much more difficult than this transition is ever going to be because I know Maryland fans love basketball. They want to win and they're going to support me from day one."
As far as that last part, if Turgeon is able to take it to Duke and Carolina the way Gary Williams made a career out of doing, then he won't have to worry about support. As far as saying replacing Gillispie was more difficult than replacing Gary Williams, I'm not sure how many people will agree with that. However, no matter how you slice it, there is a new dimension to Maryland basketball that will evolve over the next few years, and despite the bold statement about his first years at Texas A&M, Mark Turgeon may be the man who picks up where Gary Williams left off and keeps Maryland among the national elite, and not just that third-place team in the ACC.