- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tad Boyle heard his old teammate and boss Mark Turgeon tell the story to recruits countless times over the years.

Turgeon, the Topeka, Kan., native who outworked everyone to earn playing time at point guard and eventually became a two-year captain at Kansas, ran off the court at the 1986 Final Four in Dallas. His gaze drifted to the stands and eventually fixated on his family. His eyes welled with tears in the knowledge that he had made the most of his talents and helped his teammates do the same.

“There’s certain people who are born a coach, and Mark Turgeon was born a coach,” said Boyle, now the head coach at Colorado. “There was no doubt in his mind when he was playing at KU what he wanted to do.”

The 46-year-old’s odyssey — from Jacksonville State to Wichita State to Texas A&M — now brings him to Maryland as Gary Williams’ successor. Williams, who won the 2002 national title and reached two Final Fours, retired Thursday after 22 years at his alma mater.

Turgeon was hired late Monday and will be introduced at a Wednesday news conference at Comcast Center. He is 250-159 in 13 seasons as a college coach, including 97-40 in four years at Texas A&M. The Big 12 school reached the NCAA tournament in each of Turgeon’s seasons.

Williams leaves a lasting legacy in College Park, with his 14 NCAA tournament appearances and his demonstrative sideline demeanor. Turgeon, say those who know him, is intense, candid and confident, a reflection of the work ethic he needed to become a high-major player and the pedigree of his early bosses.

“He’s just meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar,” said ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, a former coach at St. John’s and New Mexico who frequently broadcasts Big 12 games. “He’s not trying to be Mr. Personality. He’s just solid at what he does. He’s a family guy. He’s Mr. Middle America, really. His values come from work ethic and overachieving.”

After completing his career at Kansas, Turgeon joined the Jayhawks’ staff under eventual Hall of Famer Larry Brown. In his first year as an assistant coach, Kansas won the 1988 national title.

Brown departed after that season and the Jayhawks hired North Carolina assistant Roy Williams, who retained Turgeon. Williams, another Hall of Fame inductee who won two national titles after returning to North Carolina, saw Turgeon’s early maturation as a coach.

“Mark is an outstanding individual and outstanding basketball coach,” Williams said in a statement. “He overachieved as a player at Kansas and every one of the teams he has coached has also overachieved and played beyond their athleticism and ability. The University of Maryland is one of the great jobs in college basketball and the job that Gary Williams did will be hard to match, but Mark is the individual who can do that.”

Such certainty doesn’t stem exclusively from Turgeon’s early roots. After stints as an assistant with Oregon and the Philadelphia 76ers, Turgeon agreed in 1998 to become the coach at Jacksonville State, an Alabama school that moved up to Division I in the mid-1990s.

Within two years, he turned the Gamecocks into a 17-11 team and earned the job at Wichita State.

“Look at where Mark played and where he coached, and for him to take his first head coaching job at Jacksonville State, I think that’s all you need to know about his belief in himself,” said Boyle, who was a Turgeon assistant at Jacksonville State and Wichita State. “Just the fact he would take a job in a part of the country he didn’t know, where he had no contacts and no recruiting ties and was extremely successful.”

At his first stop, Turgeon caught the eye of another coach — one who ultimately would have a significant tie to Turgeon’s latest destination.

Jacksonville State was then a member of the Trans America Athletic Conference. So, too, was Georgia State, then led by Lefty Driesell. The former Maryland coach was impressed and kept an eye on Turgeon’s teams in the years after.

“He’s a nice young man, very personable, a good guy,” Driesell said. “He knows basketball. He coached under Larry Brown and Roy Williams and won everywhere he’s been. I think he’ll do a great job. He’s one of my favorite young coaches. He’ll do a super job there.”

Turgeon eventually led Wichita State to a regional semifinal appearance in 2006 before taking over at Texas A&M.

His predecessor with the Aggies, Billy Gillispie, led the program out of a long period of decline. But Turgeon maintained the prosperity he inherited, becoming the first basketball coach at any current Big 12 school to win at least 24 games in each of his first four seasons.

Texas A&M won its NCAA tournament opener in his first three years, and his last Aggies team was 24-9 and finished the season ranked No. 24.

“You look at the Big 12 over the last four years, other than Kansas being rock-solid and Texas to a degree, there probably wasn’t a more consistent team night in and night out than Texas A&M,” Fraschilla said. “That kind of fits Mark. Their teams reached their potential every year he coached. His teams reach their maximum potential. They didn’t leave much on the table.”

That’s a familiar refrain at Maryland, where Williams was known for extracting whatever he could from most of his rosters.

One of Turgeon’s greatest challenges will be adapting to a different recruiting environment, although he did lure DeMatha product Naji Hibbert to Texas A&M.

Boyle said Turgeon is one of the few coaches who can both recruit and X-and-O extremely well. But even with such high praise, Boyle said the same values that made Turgeon savor that Final Four a quarter-century ago serve him well in his professional life.

“You’re not going to find anybody with a higher degree of integrity and honesty,” Boyle said. “Mark is a straight shooter. What you see is what you get. He knows the difference between right and wrong, and he does things the right way.”