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Big Ten move took Maryland coaches by surprise

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Maryland's decision to move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten not only caught its fans and students — and possibly ACC officials — by surprise. The stunning announcement that was first rumored late last week and was made official Monday also came as a shock to many of the school's coaches.

Second-year men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon said his initial reaction was not unlike those who have been around the program for a long time.

"I was like, 'Are you kidding me, what's going on here?" Turgeon said after the afternoon campus news conference in the student union. "I've had a few days to digest it, but it's new to me, too. I don't know all the details, but in talking to [athletic director] Kevin [Anderson], it's a great move for the reasons that he said. It's a great move, for our budget, athletically and for our institution. We're already a very strong academic institution. I think it takes us to another level. I think we had to do it."

Said women's basketball coach Brenda Frese: "I think everyone was caught off-guard initially, but that's a normal reaction when you're talking about change. But like I said, those that are able to adapt to change and understand it are the ones that are able to take advantage of the opportunity."

Frese said the announcement shouldn't be a distraction to her team.

"I think they're fully on board, they get it, they understand it. I think they've handled it better, to be honest, than a lot of traditionalists and people who have been here," Frese said. "I think from a younger generation standpoint, they've moved very quickly through it because they understand it's competition. At the end of the day, it's about winning six games to win a national championship. It's not about conference [affiliation]. I came here to be at the University of Maryland."

Turgeon recalled the last thing he told Anderson when he interviewed for the job to succeed Gary Williams in May 2011.

"My last line in my interview to Kevin Anderson was, 'I'm not going to fundraise.' Well that's all I've done is fundraise since I've been here. Hopefully down the road those days are over," said Turgeon, who had to push back his team's final practice for Tuesday's home game against Lafayette in order to attend the news conference. "We're leaving one great conference and going to another one. I came to be the basketball coach at Maryland. That is a great job no matter what league we're in and we're going to do great things no matter what league we're in."

Said longtime men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski: "It's been hard coaching at Maryland, the last six or seven years in particular. I feel like a full-time fundraiser. I feel like we've been swimming against the current for so long. It'll be nice to dedicate more time to recruiting and coaching and not have to worry as much about some of our necessities."

Cirovski, who is in his 20th season at Maryland, said that in informing his current players about the move to a conference that includes perennial national power Indiana, "It's like telling your kids you're going to move from one neighborhood to another. Parents know it's the right thing to do. Kids aren't going to be happy, but there's opportunities for new friendships, new relationships, new experiences and you're moving to a great conference."

Echoing the sentiments of a few Maryland coaches who said privately that they feared the ACC falling apart as the Big East has with possible future defections of football powers Florida State and Clemson to the Southeastern Conference or the Big 12, Cirovski said, "I'm happy that we're in front of this rather than behind it. I'm happy that we have the choice to do something rather than to be sitting at the end of the line and be told where we're going to end up. I'm reenergized to move forward."

So apparently is second-year football coach Randy Edsall, despite the fact that the Terps will be moving into a more competitive league with perennial powers (albeit some currently on NCAA probation) such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and scandal-ridden Penn State. Edsall said the prospects of starting new rivalries, and reviving what had been a one-sided rivalry with the Nittany Lions, "excites" him.

"We know we've got work to do and I met with my team before I came up here and they were excited about it. We know we have another year in the ACC. It gives us another opportunity," Edsall said. "This gives our kids a chance to play in the Rose Bowl, the granddaddy of them all. … It will be very challenging, but one we look forward to."

Edsall said the chance of being a part of the Big Ten Network will help Maryland "be in 30 countries and all over the United States" and could help widen his current recruiting territory. "It's going to open up some new areas in recruiting," he said. "We've already talked about taking care of the home base, moving into Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis. I think this exposure will aid us in recruiting and get us in places we couldn't get into before."

Of all the Maryland coaches, Frese is perhaps the most familiar with the Big Ten. She grew up in Iowa and coached at Minnesota before moving to Maryland a decade ago.

Asked if she felt as if she will be going home, Frese said, "I do. My parents are thrilled. Our twin boys will have the opportunity to get closer to our family back there. Obviously the time I spent at Minnesota was really, really good. There are so many positives coming out of this."

A few Maryland students who watched the news conference online don't feel the same as the coaches, especially those who grew up in the area rooting for the Terps and against a couple of certain teams from the state of North Carolina.

Joey Switzer, a sophomore from Gaithersburg whose father is a Maryland graduate, said, "It will definitely be different for a long time. I've been taught to hate Duke and Carolina from birth. It's definitely shocking at first, and sad, at least for now that those traditions will not continue. I definitely understand the points of why it's a good idea and I think I support the decision, [but] it's still grieving. It's still really sad. It seems like the benefits are more on the side of academics than athletics and that kind of hurts."

Dan Michaelis, a "super" senior from West Orange, N.J., put it even more passionately.

"I feel blindsided like I just got hit by a Mack truck right before Thanksgiving," Michaelis said, standing outside the room where the news conference was held. "We thought it was a pointless rumor on Friday and then this morning it got to be an official annoucement. I feel slightly betrayed and totally powerless. Had they said anything to the students before hand, two weeks ago saying, 'Hey we're thinking about moving,' it wouldn't have been so bad. I feel President [Wallace] Loh doesn't care about the students at all."

Christophe Itsweire, a sophomore from Chevy Chase, said that he believes the rivalries with the Blue Devils and Tar Heels will carry over "pretty quickly" with the Hoosiers and Wolverines and even the Spartans, who knocked the Terps out of the NCAA tournament twice in an eight-year stretch.

"I think Michigan State will be fun to get some revenge on for 2010 [and 2003]," Itsweire said.

Longtime Maryland play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday said longtime fans are "justifiable" in being upset about leaving the ACC. "But if you look years ahead for the program, it's something athletically and academically you had to do. I'd love to see Indiana come in and play Maryland in basketball. I'd love to see Michigan to come in here or for us to go up and see 103,000 for football. You have the Penn State rivalry again. I think it's going to be OK."

Former Maryland football coach Bobby Ross is like many formerly associated with the program who still follow what the Terps are doing. Like many older Maryland fans, Ross is "sad" to see the school leave the ACC, but understands the reasoning.

Though it wasn't much of a rivalry — the Terps were 1-29-1 when the series was played nearly uninterrupted between 1960 and 1993, when Maryland was crushed 70-7 at Memorial Stadium — Ross said Edsall can use the revival of the series with Penn State to his benefit.

"One of the things we used to advertise in our recruiting was that we were not too far away from around 50 million people with the location being where it was — with Ohio, Pennsylvania," said Ross, who was 39-19-1 in five seasons as coach and won three straight ACC titles from 1983-1985.

Ross even recalled taking his 1985 team to Michigan for a game that, despite a 20-0 loss, was "a great experience for us."

Ross said that he took his team to practice in "The Big House" the day before the game.

"We flew into Detroit and I didn't realize how far it was to Ann Arbor," Ross said. "We then came back and stayed right by the airport. It was a little bit of a bus ride that was probably not really smart on my part. But I wanted them to see the environment as far as the size and the magnitude of the stadium. It may or may not have been the right thing to do. I don't think it cost us the game, but it does have an effect on you. I wanted them to get all the goo-goo eyes out of their system before we played."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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