Jan 12, 2014; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon during the first half of the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
These are just two snippets from Twitter, of the thousands of tweets which encompassed the moods of tons of Maryland fans: Mark Turgeon needs to go. The sentiments following the brutal road loss to N.C. State ranged from “Turgeon is raining hell fire on the program,” to “He’s worse than Bob Wade.” There was no in between, and there was no “one more year” talk. Turgeon’s coaching was horrid, and he was running roughshod over the entire program.
While the pent up emotion is understandable coming from a program that hasn’t made the tournament in half a decade, the bad news for those wanting a Turgeon to step down is this: there’s zero chance it happens this year or next. Here’s why:
Maryland is broke, so even if it’s broken it won’t get fixed
Look, Maryland gave Mark Turgeon an eight-year deal back in 2011, paying him a shade under $1.9 million per season. For the non-engineering major readers that’s $15.2 million tied up between the university and Turgeon. At the time, I think Kevin Anderson realized that Maryland needed some continuity in the program, and the only way to stretch those dollars was by giving Turgeon a contract that would extend for awhile rather than dole out massive lump sums every year.
That contract is an albatross that will basically pummel any argument made that Turgeon should be fired this season (or, really, the next). Primarily because the Maryland athletic department’s coffers are empty. They have no ACC money coming in because of the lawsuit being waged against them, and they’re just not solvent at the time. Back in 2012, Liz Clarke reported that Maryland’s annual deficit was projected to approach $2.8 million that year. This isn’t exactly a program with an unlimited budget.
Any consideration of simply eating Turgeon’s contract at this stage in the game makes no sense given how much revenue has declined from the peak revenue stream of 2006. In 2012, they were projected to be in debt $14 million by 2016. That number was actually lenient, because the athletic department was in the hole $21 million as of 2013. Guess no one predicted the ACC would withhold revenue from the program when we left their conference hanging. Whoops!
Right now, the university is footing the athletic department bill because we can’t afford it. Do you think Wallace Loh, the guy who wants to axe the golf course in favor of an academic center, will be more than willing to throw tens of millions of dollars more at the athletic department? Let’s get real here. Would you loan your friend your spare Mercedes after he ran your Bugatti into a wall?
In short, Maryland cannot afford it. It’s plain, it’s simple, and it’s a cold harsh reality. This isn’t Texas, this isn’t Alabama or Auburn. This is a school that’s using academic money to even operate. Freedom to choose is not a luxury this school has.
You don’t fire a guy who has recruited well
The Terps have a top ten class right now for 2014, coming in at 9 just ahead of Georgetown, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Xavier, Indiana, and just about every other major school except for the juggernauts. I don’t pretend to be a major recruiting expert, but common sense tells you that you don’t fire a guy who is bringing in top ten classes unless things are a train wreck.
Mark Turgeon brought in four kids who are ranked a 4* or higher by every major recruiting service. Do you know when the last time Maryland did that was? You’d have to go back to ancient history to do it. Maryland’s recruiting class is as good as you can expect from a program that made the NIT last year and nothing the year prior. It means Turgeon is doing at least half of his job exceedingly well with recruiting pitches like “Hey we’re broke and our fans are overly critical! Come play for us!” or “We won something over a decade ago, interested?”
The university isn’t firing Mark Turgeon because they understand the program is on the mend, and those things take awhile. Loh and Anderson are Ivy League guys, they understand the value of the slow play. Knee-jerk reactions are what the Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders do, not the Maryland Terrapins. In college, even more so than in the pros, rebuilding take time when you have to sledgehammer the foundation and have a limited budget to work with. That’s Maryland right now: a house with wood rot at the core that’s slowly being rebuilt.
Bringing in a top ten class this year and a top 25 the year prior shows that you’re building and that results should (in theory) get there, but putting a time estimate that spans a meager three years is foolish.
Turgeon hasn’t even been bad enough to warrant a firing this early
All of what was mentioned above says nothing about the fact that, historically, Turgeon hasn’t even been that bad. He isn’t putting out Bob Wade seasons left and right (9-17, 18-13, 9-20); on the contrary, Turgeon has actually been just decent (if not underwhelming by National Championship standards). He won 25 games last year, finished above .500 with 17 wins the year prior, and is on pace for somewhere around 20 wins this year as well.
Turgeon isn’t running the program into the ground, he just didn’t meet expectations this year. 11-8, by his own admission, isn’t where this team wanted to be to start the year. And because he sold fans on the notion that this team was a tournament bound one from the start, there’s an entirely understandable discontent among the fan base because they have underachieved relative to expectations. And that’s entirely normal.
What isn’t normal is that there was no statistic or metric outside of “coach speak” that suggested this team was going to make the tournament this year. I don’t want to say “I told you so,” or anything, but you don’t lose a lottery pick and get better, you don’t lose your best three point shooter and get better (Aronhalt), and you don’t lose a senior leader, replace him with nothing, and get better. That says nothing about the point guard situation which, try as the coaching staff did, wasn’t shored up this offseason.
No, Turgeon has made some slip ups along the way, but a dose of reality would have told you that this season would be a retooling year. Turgeon might have said otherwise most of the time, but that’s what he’s supposed to do. Would you have preferred it if he said “Yeah, Shaq Cleare isn’t ready for prime time yet, Charles Mitchell is undersized, and Evan Smotrycz couldn’t defend against the Swiss army,” ? Because he could have, and then fans would be just as disgruntled and probably slightly less motivated to come to games knowing that they were going to be brutal.
That said, Turgeon isn’t putting out the worst team in the history of the program. He’s putting out a team that might be NIT bound, but isn’t going to win single digits and lose every conference game they play. Unless he’s doing that, given the financial situation the school is in and how well he’s recruited, Turgeon isn’t going anywhere.
As stated, it takes time to rebuild
No one wants to admit it, and you can be as much of a fan as you want in every other way, but if you don’t acknowledge the condition the basketball program was in before Turgeon arrived, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It wasn’t a dumpster fire by any means on the outside, having won 19 games the season prior to Turgeon’s arrival. But it wasn’t at the national championship level that fans expect the program to be at.
Maryland had recruits leaving, a bad class coming in, and not a lot of talent on the roster. Turgeon wasn’t taking over at Kansas or Kentucky; he was taking over at Indiana after scandals. Maryland may not have been sanctioned by the NCAA, but they were definitely sanctioned by Debbie Yow. Without a massive budget, the school was limited in how they could recruit players to come in and even which coaches they could get.
People love to call Maryland a sleeping giant, but the reality is that it may have been a comatose giant. Over the last ten years, the Terps basketall program wasn’t bringing in tons of local studs and they weren’t making the tournament every year. This school may have the potential to be a North Carolina or a Duke or a Kentucky, but they haven’t shown it historically. If we look at history, they’re just not on par with the other “giant” schools that folks love to compare Maryland (unfairly so) to.
They can build to it, but that takes time. It starts with bringing in a surplus of talented recruits to find the best pieces (and having the option to do so). Check. Next up comes the on-court results (not-so-check). The two are tied together, but I’d argue that bringing in the talent is the first step. Turgeon is doing that incredibly well by most standards. And yes, understand that recruiting is very hit and miss and a lot of times it has nothing to do with the coach himself.
Gary Williams couldn’t coax performance out of Travis Garrison but he could with Bambale Osby. He couldn’t get Nik Caner-Medley to stay out of bars but he could with Greivis Vasquez. Sometimes three-star players pan out where the five-stars don’t, and other times that isn’t the case. It isn’t an indictment on the coach, it’s just the reality of recruiting based services; they’re projections that aren’t set in stone.
And sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Look over at Indiana following the hiring of Tom Crean. The Hoosiers were a brutal team for three straight seasons with Crean at the helm before they got good after bringing in some guys named Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Before then, the fan base was up in arms about how bad a coach he was. Guess whose team torched the Big Ten last year? You bet.
You can’t fire a guy three years into a rebuild. It puts you back at square one, and it doesn’t do anyone any good. On the contrary, it’s just a bad business move that is reactionary and doesn’t allow for growth. I like the foundation that’s happening here, there’s no secret to that, but it requires an understanding that this is about long term growth and sustainability.
I know some fans want Mark Turgeon gone, and that’s fine of you to desire that. But just to let you know, it ain’t happening anytime soon.