By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun
6:58 PM EST, February 1, 2013
COLLEGE PARK — Mark Turgeon used to drive the identical route to the arena before every home game.
The Maryland men's basketball coach would put on his tie at precisely the same time before his team took the floor.
When he recruited players, he had a strategy for just where he needed to sit during home visits.
Were these merely regimens? Rituals? Somewhere along Turgeon's long and largely successful basketball road, the line between habit and superstition became blurred.
That's the way it goes for many college coaches — and especially Turgeon — who are full of attempts to manipulate fortune.
"There's such a fine line between winning and losing," said Scott Spinelli, a top Turgeon assistant at Maryland, Texas A&M and Wichita State. "Any little thing that could possibly bring you better luck from the basketball gods, you kind of see it through."
Turgeon, who is in his 15th season as a head coach, said he is not as superstitious as he once was. "I've eased up on a lot of them," he said Friday as Maryland (15-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepared for its Saturday afternoon game against Wake Forest (10-10, 3-5 ACC) at Comcast Center. "I'd say I'm more regimented than superstitious."
He abides his remaining superstitions the way a person might tolerate a quirky uncle.
This season, he insists on the same reporter asking the first question at each of his media availabilities.
"It's not working," he joked Friday, an allusion to the Terps losing five of their last seven games.
After Maryland defeated Boston College on Jan. 22, Turgeon said he had started forward Jake Layman because the freshman had previously started in a win over Virginia Tech, and "I am superstitious."
The hunch paid off as Layman scored 15 points against the Eagles.
Coaching Wichita State in 2007, Turgeon ran a drill on boxing out under the basket. Sean Ogirri, arguably the team's best player, badly sprained an ankle the day before a game. Turgeon never ran the drill again.
At Texas A&M, a reporter once asked Turgeon about the Aggies' improving 3-point shooting. According to The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle, the coach replied: "Come on, Rich. You know better. Don't jinx us like that."
Of course, what may look like superstition is sometimes just routine.
Before home night games, Maryland guards will always do their afternoon shootarounds on the basket nearest the locker room. The team's big men shoot on the far basket.
On game days, the seating plan for Turgeon and his assistants never varies.
"Since the first day I started working for him, I've been to the right of him," Spinelli said. "You really don't have a choice. It's almost assigned seating on the bench for his assistant coaches, and you've got to know your seat. The players will sit to the right of me."
Turgeon is far from the only coach — even at Maryland — to indulge the occasional superstition.
In the fall, Terps football coach Randy Edsall was asked about an upcoming practice. He was in the midst of a season in which numerous key players sustained injuries.
"Hopefully we don't have anybody who rolls an ankle," Edsall said.
Then he leaned over and knocked twice on a wooden panel.
Notes: Turgeon said he expected to again use a different starting lineup Saturday than the one he used in the last game. "I've tried to shorten the bench," he said. "The hardest thing for me with personnel decisions is I never know what I'm going to get. I would like guys to know when they're going to play and when they're not going to play. Historically, I've done that. This has just been a very strange year for that." Maryland has used 10 starting lineups this season.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun