In the aftermath of Maryland’s heartbreaking 14-13 overtime loss to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament final on May 30, coach John Tillman tried to put on a brave face despite the disappointment and frustration welling within him and his players.
But while answering a question about how he personally bounces back from such a setback, Tillman wept, showing a side of himself that few see publicly.
More than a week after that rare display, Tillman acknowledged how difficult that post-game conference was for him.
“I try to be very real,” he said. “To me, that was just me. I tried to fight back the tears a little bit, but I really care about my kids. I love them, I really do. We care so deeply about everything that they do.”
“It is emotionally very difficult,” Tillman added a little later, “and I’m sure it was difficult for [Brown coach] Lars Tiffany on Saturday [after the Terps ousted the Bears in a 15-14 overtime decision on May 28]. He’s a good friend of mine, and it sounded like he went through the same thing. So much of it is much more than just the sport or that game. It’s knowing that you’re saying goodbye and seeing your kids that invested so much not be able to do that. Yet it’s realizing that we lost to a very talented team and a really well-coached team that is worthy of being a champion.”
The loss to the Tar Heels was the Terps’ fourth in the title game during Tillman’s six-year tenure in College Park. Tillman could not say whether the most recent setback hurt more than the previous three. Instead, he said he has taken to heart a saying from former coach Dick Edell, relayed to Tillman by an alum.
“‘If this is the worst day of your life, you’re going to have an amazing life,’” Tillman quoted Edell as saying. “These guys will have families, be parents, start having kids. I know that the kids will be disappointed that they didn’t win, but there are going to be other things that they will fully invest their time and effort in and be very passionate about, and there’s going to be some adversity and disappointment there, too, and they’ve got to be able to handle those things.”