Kevin Anderson, Maryland's rookie athletic director, does things differently, you have to admit. In January, he hired a football coach from a basketball school (Randy Edsall, formerly of Connecticut), and Monday he hired a basketball coach from a football school (Mark Turgeon, late of Texas A&M).
From the outside, neither search seemed particularly self-assured. The filling of Gary Williams' vacancy, especially, came across as clumsy, almost amateurish. Granted, the timing wasn't great; it was a full month after the season. But in being rebuffed by Arizona's Sean Miller, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, Villanova's Jay Wright, Butler's Brad Stevens and, for all we know, Hickory High's Norman Dale, Maryland looked like a telemarketer in the era of the Do Not Call List.
It was enough to make you do a double take — if not a spit take. After all, didn't the Terps win a national championship less than a decade ago? Don't they play in a premier conference and have fabulous facilities, enthusiastic fan support and a fertile recruiting area from which to draw? What's wrong with this picture?
Actually, there's nothing wrong with it. College Park is — and always will be — a terrific place to coach. But, let's face it, it's not your typical "top job." Why? Because in the Atlantic Coast Conference, there are Duke and North Carolina ... and everybody else. So all the Maryland search committee can offer a candidate, basically, is the chance to be No. 3, to be the best of Everybody Else.
Now, No. 3 in the ACC is a fairly high station in life — and it can have its moments, as Williams showed - but it's still No. 3. And how many coaches are going to leap at the chance to be No. 3?
Think about it. Arizona and UCLA are the Duke and North Carolina of the soon-to-be-Pac-12. Why would Miller give up that to be the perennial bronze medalist at Maryland — unless he was offered, oh, a majority stake in Under Armour? In the Big East, meanwhile, the power structure is very fluid, and Brey, Dixon and Wright have done well there. So why move? The same goes for Stevens, who absolutely owns the Horizon League.
See what I mean? Finding a replacement for Williams, somebody with some buzz factor, is far from a snap. Then, too, there are just more places a coach can be happy nowadays. Can you imagine, back in 1989 (when Williams arrived), the coach at Butler telling Maryland he wasn't interested?
But the money has gotten better in a lot of places, the visibility has gotten better and the odds of succeeding on the national stage — regardless of where you're coaching — have gotten better. There were two mid-majors, Butler and VCU, in the Final Four this year. And George Mason, let's not forget, has gotten there more recently (2006) than Maryland and Virginia.
No coach is really behooved anymore to take a job in one of the power conferences. It comes down more to the individual and what's important to him. Is he determined to make every last buck he can? Is it all about status - and this conference (read: country club) being better than that conference? Or do job security and just feeling appreciated matter more?
Or to put it another way: It took Maryland 64 years to win the NCAA title. Who's to say it won't take another 64 years to win the second? There are no guarantees.
Turgeon might not be the preferred choice of Terps Nation, but he's a logical one. For one thing, he has four years of experience being No. 3 in the Big 12, where Kansas and Texas rule. For another, he appears to possess some Gary-like qualities. As one observer wrote, "His teams played hard. His teams were gritty. His teams often overachieved."
But it's also fair to say that Turgeon merely maintained what his predecessor, Billy Gillispie, started. He didn't build on it. Gillispie went to the Sweet 16 in his third and last season in College Station; Turgeon, in four tries, never got past the second round (though he did once at Wichita State).
Turgeon, moreover, isn't inheriting nearly as much talent at Maryland as he did at Texas A&M. So it would be a surprise if the early returns were as encouraging. (It would be less of a surprise, of course, if Jordan Williams hadn't decided to take his 16.9 points and 11.8 rebounds a game to the NBA.)
Maybe Turgeon is looking at the big picture and thinking: "Mike Krzyzewski will be 65 next season; Roy Williams will be 61. They can't coach forever." But Duke and North Carolina were elite programs before those two happened by, and they'll likely continue to be.
Speaking of Krzyzewski — the 1980 version, I mean — why didn't Maryland have a below-the-radar candidate like him? When Duke hired Coach K, he was coming off a 9-17 season at Army. That, as much as anything, was what was missing from the Terps' search — a little creativity.
Call me crazy — I've certainly been called worse — but I would have at least dialed David Robinson's number and asked if he had any interest in college coaching. A three-quarters-court shot in the dark? Sure. But what have you got to lose? And consider what you'd have to gain: A brainy basketball legend with gold-plated local ties (Navy, Osbourn Park High School). Big men would beat a path to Robinson's door, just as they flocked to John Thompson the Elder when he was taking Georgetown to the heights in the '80s and '90s.
But enough daydreaming. Maryland has wedded itself to Mark Turgeon, for richer or for poorer. For Anderson's sake, it would help if it were the former.
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