And then he left the grandeur of Kansas basketball to become a higher-ranking assistant at Oregon.

From the heights of coaching to the depths

The Ducks were terrible and worse, no one in Eugene, Ore., seemed to care. Those were the lowest days of Turgeon's coaching career, the only time he questioned his chosen path. "I'm out of this gig," he remembers thinking. "I can do something else."

His future wife challenged him. "I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" Ann Turgeon recalls. "One bump in the road and all of a sudden, you're not good enough?"

He stuck it out for five years at Oregon. And then the couple enjoyed a brief respite from the college game in 1997 and 1998, when Turgeon worked as an assistant for Brown with the Philadelphia 76ers. His hours weren't bad, and the city overflowed with pleasant diversions.

But when Jacksonville State — literally the second weakest team in the country according to RPI power rankings — came calling, Ann knew the cushy period was up. Turgeon missed teaching college players, and a head coaching job was his destiny.

Jacksonville State went 8-18 in his first season, anathema to a guy who'd never won fewer than 22 at Kansas. Turgeon was more apt to show his temper then. "I was full of piss and vinegar," he says. "I would fight anyone who'd get in my way."

"I've seen him down," says Boyle, who assisted Turgeon at Jacksonville. "But Mark's not going to be down for long. It gets back to that sense of competition. It's, 'I might have lost this battle but I'm going to win the war. I might have lost this recruit, but I'll find one better.' He's not going to feel sorry for himself, and he's always going to come back for more."

Jacksonville improved to 17-11, and then Turgeon engineered a similar turnaround at Wichita State. But it was at Texas A&M where he learned the pitfalls of replacing a proven winner. College Station, Texas, is a football town that had rarely given a hoot about hoops before Billy Gillispie swept in and steered the Aggies to the Sweet 16. Then Gillispie bolted for Kentucky, leaving Turgeon his first shot at coaching in a big-time conference.

Local reporters accused him of whining that first year as the team floundered in the middle of the season. "I know, no matter what I do, Gillispie is getting credit for the win," he said in an oft-replayed tirade. "If we lose, it's my fault. I'm in a no-flipping win situation this year, and that puts me in a bad mood."

Asked if he will apply lessons from that year to the experience of replacing Williams, Turgeon says he won't hide his feelings in the face of criticism. "I wouldn't take any of those comments back," he says. "I'm not going to let someone kick sand in my face."

His best answers came on the court, where Texas A&M went to four straight NCAA tournaments under his watch. The Turgeons' three children grew up in College Station, and the sudden decision to leave a successful program for Maryland was not easy.

"The thing that made it hard was the team he left behind," Ann Turgeon says. "But I think he always wanted to be at a basketball powerhouse. When [Maryland athletic director] Kevin Anderson called, my heart dropped, because I knew that was what he always wanted."

Filling big shoes

Turgeon was careful after his hiring to pay homage to Williams, who in turn said that he would not hang around the program he rebuilt (despite keeping a job in the athletic department).

But the new coach wasted little time showing that he meant business in recruiting. He brought one assistant, Scott Spinelli, with him from Texas A&M. But for his others, he lured Dalonte Hill from Kansas State and kept Bino Ranson from Williams' staff. Turgeon didn't know either man well, but both have strong ties to youth basketball pipelines in the Baltimore-Washington area. The new coach was, in effect, letting everyone know that he cared more about getting great players than about surrounding himself with familiar faces.

His first major task was to keep City College guard Nick Faust, who had committed to Maryland, but had the right to back out when Williams retired. Faust's mother, Lisa, was in no mood to hear from Maryland after Williams' abrupt retirement.

"We just don't trust any coaches right now," she shouted at Turgeon the first time they spoke.

"I told her, 'Lisa, if Nick doesn't come, I won't be here in two or three years,'" he recalls. "She laughed."

Faust stayed.