Brenda Frese and Mark Turgeon are mutual admirers as their Maryland teams prepare for March Madness

Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon and women's basketball coach Brenda Frese speak to fans in Baltimore before the season.
Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon and women's basketball coach Brenda Frese speak to fans in Baltimore before the season. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Mark Turgeon was on the phone, recruiting, the first few times Brenda Frese ducked into his office to greet her new coaching colleague at the University of Maryland.

So when he found a free minute, he walked down the hall and stuck his head into Frese's office. She was not expecting him and had a look of surprise.


"She turned beet red," he recalled with amusement.

It was a light moment between new co-workers and, as it turned out, an early signal of the friendly relationship between Maryland's men's and women's basketball coaches.


As Frese and Turgeon prepare to lead their teams into the NCAA tournament — he on Friday in Columbus, Ohio, and she on Saturday in College Park — they do so as mutual admirers with more in common than basketball success.

Both coaches hail from close Midwestern families, his based in Kansas and hers in Iowa. Both have made their own spouses and children visible parts of Maryland's high-profile programs. Both address the world in polite, yet blunt terms. Both are fueled by a rage to win that has them working nearly 365 days a year.

"It's been great from the beginning," Turgeon said of the relationship.

"It's a dynamic I treasure," Frese said.


It would be incorrect to portray Frese and Turgeon as best pals. They're extremely busy people, each ruling a fiefdom in which dozens of assistants, players and recruits look to the top for direction. So most of their interactions are fleeting.

And yet they do make real efforts to be mutually supportive in a way that has not always been the case at schools with successful men's and women's programs. At Connecticut, for example, women's coach Geno Auriemma and former men's coach Jim Calhoun maintained a notoriously frosty relationship, even as both their programs contended for national championships and brought acclaim to the university.

But as both Terps teams cracked the national top 10 this year, there was no sense of rivalry or animosity between the eventual Big Ten Coaches of the Year.

Whenever the women achieve another milestone, Turgeon posts congratulations on Twitter and walks through Frese's office suite to offer kudos in person.

When Frese talks to media members, she often pauses to praise the men for their success this season.

To her mind, it's better for everyone when both programs are thriving. Dual success adds to the impression of Maryland as a destination for big-time basketball.

"When we talk to recruits, they often talk about how they've watched our men's team play," Frese said. "Just the general buzz on campus this year, it's huge."

The good spirits flow down to the players on each team. As Turgeon's senior star, Dez Wells, walked off the court after the Terps' last practice before leaving for Ohio, women's player Aja Ellison made a point to wish him well.

Wells asked her about the women's bracket. "Wow, y'all go all the way to Washington?" he said after learning their possible Sweet Sixteen destination in Spokane.

Players say such moments of camaraderie are common as they pass each other in the weight room or in the halls of the Xfinity Center.

"We do support those girls wholeheartedly," Wells said. "They're amazing."

Frese always tried to be respectful of Turgeon's predecessor, Gary Williams, who was the 800-pound gorilla of Maryland coaches when she arrived in 2002. But she acknowledges an easier affinity for Turgeon, largely because they're at more similar stages of professional and personal life (he's 50, she's 44).

"I think so," she said. "When I came in, [coach Williams and I] were at different ends of the spectrum. He had already built a dynasty. But when coach Turgeon came in, he was a more natural fit with me in terms of age and family. He came in trying to do the same thing I did when I came in in terms of building something. There were a lot of mirror images and common connections."

Those connections went beyond mere professional courtesy to the two coaches' roots.

When Turgeon posted a picture on Twitter of his extended family surrounding him after Maryland's 64-61 win at Nebraska, the scene felt deeply familiar to Frese, who was swarmed by relations any time her team went near Iowa this season.

"We're both very grounded in the fact that family comes first," she said.

It's probably their most obvious bond. Both Turgeon and Frese were hard-charging, ambitious people who also wanted families of their own. Such desires become contradictory for many coaches but not for these two. They simply integrated their spouses and children into long workdays at the gym.

In fact, Frese's twin boys and Turgeon's three children have shot baskets together on the main floor at the 17,950-seat Xfinity Center, which Frese jokingly refers to as the "Xfinity Center play gym." They've also frolicked together at pool parties hosted by Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson. Both sets of kids are used to treating Maryland players as extremely tall older siblings.

The family atmosphere has become a key part of each coach's recruiting pitch, and it's something players often talk about when they describe why they came to Maryland.

Wells sounded like he was talking about a family member recently when he said of Turgeon, "He's helped me, he's guided me, he's led me growing as a man and not just a basketball player."

Women's players sometimes use the word "maternal" to sum up the woman they refer to as "Coach B."

Frese knew she liked Turgeon early on in part because, at his introductory press conference, he said he would treat his players as if they were his own children.

"I think you see that with him in every setting," she said. "He can get very passionate, but there's no belittling."

Both coaches found their passion for the game through loving Midwestern families. When Turgeon was still in grade school in Topeka, his father, Bob, took him to local high school games, where young Mark eavesdropped on team huddles. Frese, meanwhile, competed with her five siblings, shooting at the hoop her father, Bill, put up in the family driveway in Cedar Rapids.

It's no surprise that both have siblings who also coach. Frese's sister, Marsha, runs the women's program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Turgeon's brother, Jim, coaches the women at Iowa Western Community College.

"I think we definitely respect each other as family people," Turgeon said of his relationship with Frese.

He also carries great respect for Frese's stewardship of her program. Perhaps it takes another high-level college coach to appreciate the necessary mix of organization, mentoring, salesmanship and basketball expertise.

"I admire how organized they are," he said. "They're organized on every detail, from recruiting to practice, like two or three months out. The pieces she surrounds herself with all fit."

Frese joked that Turgeon must like her program because his strength coach and one of his athletic trainers previously worked for her. Turgeon also plucked walk-on guard Trevor Anzmann (Westminster) from the squad of male players Frese uses to practice against her team.


Frese, in turn, praised Turgeon's attention to detail and the obvious zeal he feels coaching his players on the practice floor. She added that she has employed recruiting tips offered by his staff.


"I see a lot of similarities in the way we work," she said.

"We're probably more similar than I even know," Turgeon said. "I don't really look at that, but when you say that, I see it."


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