The past three days have been rough for Maryland men’s basketball. The Terps watched coach Mark Turgeon abruptly step down after 226 wins in 10-plus years.
Despite all that has transpired, interim coach Danny Manning has approached the situation with empathy. Manning, who was hired as an assistant during the offseason, didn’t expect to be in this situation. Yet, there he was after Maryland’s loss to Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, trying to make sense of what had happened.
“My initial reaction was complete and utter shock,” Manning said. “As you go through this, it gets tough at times. There’s no secret. [Turgeon] made a decision that was best for himself, his family but more importantly, for this team. He thought that our team needed a different voice.”
Turgeon’s departure unleashed a wave of emotions throughout the Maryland community. For some fans, it’s a breath of fresh air. For the players, it’s sad knowing the coach who believed in them for all these years is no longer present.
“It was definitely tough,” said senior guard Eric Ayala. “No one really expected it. Coach Turgeon has done a lot for me. A lot of guys wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Coach Turgeon. It still feels unreal.”
Ayala has known Turgeon longer than any other player on the roster. He said he understood the pressure Turgeon dealt with at times. After losing to Virginia Tech, Ayala said he didn’t notice anything different about his coach. Instead, the focus was on trying to figure out a way to win and turn around a season that was suddenly slipping away.
Friday felt like a normal day for Ayala until Turgeon gathered the team for a meeting to inform them that he was stepping down after leading them to NCAA tournament appearances in five of the past six seasons. Even though the announcement didn’t feel real to Ayala, the team understood Turgeon’s decision.
“We know that he went through a lot with everything going on and the fan base,” Ayala said. “He wanted to put his family first. We all respect that. I know how much he loves his family. I admire him as a man for making that decision.”
Freshman Julian Reese’s mother, Angel Reese, said she talked to her son over the phone Friday and could tell in his voice that he was dejected about Turgeon’s leaving.
Manning held a video meeting for the parents Saturday where he laid out his focus for the team. He mentioned the entire coaching staff will remain together for the rest of the season.
“It was just basically for me to get to know all the parents,” Manning said. “I have had the assistant coach hat on. That wasn’t my lane. I just wanted to put my face in front of them and let them know that I’m going to continue to follow Turgeon’s footsteps and make sure that they’re taken care of as best we can and let them know that we love them and we want to be successful.”
Even though Angel was shocked about Turgeon’s departure, she is still excited about Julian’s future in College Park.
James Graham II, the father of freshman guard/forward James Graham III, who recently entered the transfer portal, said he and his family were surprised about Turgeon stepping down.
“Felt kind of blindsided by it,” Graham II said. “I’m curious about why. When I say why I don’t mean his reason, but the timing is my biggest issue.”
CBS Sports and ACC Network analyst Dan Bonner said if he compiled a list of things that could happen to the Terps over the next five years, Turgeon leaving wouldn’t have been one of them.
“I’m shocked,” said Bonner, who covered several Maryland games during Turgeon’s tenure. “I think he’s done a great job at Maryland. Like all other coaches, in this day and age, when you’re trying to come out of the pandemic and dealing with the transfer portal, you do the best you can to put a team together. Maryland has lost a couple of games that maybe some people didn’t think they would lose, but I think a coach has to have an opportunity to put his team together.”
Jimmy Patsos, the former coach at Siena and Loyola Maryland and a longtime assistant alongside former Maryland coach Gary Williams, said it was surprising that Turgeon decided not to coach anymore, and he hopes everything is OK.
“I did it for 30 years, it’s a difficult job,” Patsos said. “I think that the fan base’s reactions to him over the last year or two would wear on anyone. You’re not human if you say that doesn’t bother you.”
What’s next for Maryland?
Even as Turgeon walked out the door, he continued to preach to Manning his belief in this Maryland team.
“He was like, ‘We’re close,’” Manning said. “We got to fine-tune some areas, then we can string together some games. I think a new voice can help move in that direction a lot quicker.”
The Terps are only nine games into a long 2021-22 season, and they have a roster that only needs to piece it together. Maryland can use Turgeon’s departure as a rallying cry or continue to dig itself into a deeper hole.
Jeff Goodman, a basketball analyst for Stadium, said a new face like Manning could rejuvenate the team. However, Maryland’s backcourt of Ayala and graduate transfer Fatts Russell will be essential in flipping the switch.
“It’s going to be up to them how far this team goes because you can’t win without guard play,” Goodman said. “Do they have the talent to do it? Yeah, I think so. Hopefully, Danny Manning can kind of figure this team out a little bit because Turgeon didn’t appear to be able to. But there were a lot of new faces too. So, it just takes a little bit of time. We didn’t give Turgeon a lot of time or, he didn’t give himself a lot of time.”
Recruiting will perhaps take the biggest hit, although the Terps have only one commitment from the 2022 class. With an interim coach and plenty of unknowns surrounding the program, convincing recruits to come to College Park could prove difficult.
“Unless they turn this thing around, I don’t see Danny being the permanent head coach. So, it will be hard unless Maryland’s their dream school,” Goodman said. “The good thing is so many schools are going the transfer route anyway.”
Even when Turgeon was still at the helm, he had a hard time bringing in high-level recruits. During Turgeon’s tenure, he only landed two five-star recruits in Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) and Diamond Stone. Players like Anthony Cowan Jr., Melo Trimble, Bruno Fernando and Aaron Wiggins were also heavily recruited before choosing to join Turgeon.
It appeared, however, that Turgeon abandoned high school recruiting during the offseason as six of his nine new players came from the transfer portal.
“I think it was hard for Turgeon because he didn’t want to make promises to kids, and other coaches do,” Goodman said. “So it makes it tougher to get some of those elite-level kids. I still think Maryland’s is a Top 20 job.”
Goodman believes Maryland has an advantage, as athletic director Damon Evans has time to figure out who he wants to go after and work behind the scenes with agents to see which candidates are interested or not.
“Whoever gets the job, the positive will be, they can still hit the transfer portal hard and not be behind the eight ball,” Goodman said.
Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational
MARYLAND VS. NO. 20 FLORIDA
Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network Radio: 105.7 FM