Turgeon, others debate the value of basketball coaches using the hook

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon can't manage a happy face during a stretch of poor play against Notre Dame on Wednesday.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon can't manage a happy face during a stretch of poor play against Notre Dame on Wednesday. (Kenneth K. Lam, The Baltimore Sun)

COLLEGE PARK — In the course of a game, Mark Turgeon may yell, stomp his feet, clap his hands, plead or curse. When frustrated with a player, the Maryland men's basketball coach sometimes looks to the rafters as if seeking divine inspiration.

In 15 seasons as a head coach, Turgeon has demonstrated countless visceral ways to deliver messages to his teams about their performances during games. But when a player really irritates him — for repeated lapses such as ill-advised shots — Turgeon sometimes resorts to his ultimate power. He will pull the culprit from the game.


In-game benchings have long been a standard coaching tool. Last week, the tactic became fodder for debate after ESPN analyst Jay Williams said during a broadcastthat Maryland seemed to be playing "a little bit tight" in its loss to Florida State on Jan. 12. Williams, who calls Turgeon a "great coach," cited an example of Terps swingman Nick Faust being pulled from a game for a bad shot last season. The former Duke point guard openly wondered if the Terps may have been fearful of being ordered to the bench.

Pundits and fans picked up on Williams' remarks and pondered whether removing a player for poor shot selection might be counterproductive.


After Maryland defeated Notre Dame three nights later, Turgeon said he had encouraged his team at halftime to try to relax. "If you miss a shot, you can smile," he recalled telling the players.

There is no indication from Turgeon that he had been influenced by Williams' remarks. After being involved in college basketball for 30 years as a player and coach, he generally doesn't pay much heed to media commentary.

But Turgeon did hear about the comments. Williams said he called Turgeon after the Florida State game to clarify his statements.

"I called Mark because I have the utmost respect for him," Williams said in a telephone interview later in the week. "I never came out and criticized Mark Turgeon at all. I gave a particular example of how those moments can make you feel tight. I was giving more of an angle from a player's perspective. Regardless of whether those comments struck or not, it was good to see Dez [Wells] and Nick and Seth [Allen] and those guys be aggressive, play and laugh and enjoy it" during the 74-66 victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday night.


In that game, Williams said, the Terps "were enjoying the moment. They were able to mentally move on to the next play and not carry negatives. That's called freedom."

The Terps (11-7, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) next play at North Carolina State (11-6, 1-3) on Monday night.

Many coaches regard the ability to bench a player for a mindless play as a necessary tool. Turgeon counts himself in that group but says each situation must be assessed differently.

"There are some guys that get to play through mistakes more than others," Turgeon said as his team prepared for the Notre Dame game. He said players receive leeway if they "are real coachable and you know they're trying to do the right thing. They make one [error] and you're like, 'OK, they're going to make some mistakes.'"

But, Turgeon said, "there are other guys that keep making the same mistakes over and over. You're probably going to pull those guys out when they do those kinds of things. Those are the frustrating ones."

Turgeon has a backer in former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, now an ESPN analyst.

"You've got to have accountability, or your team is going to lack discipline," Greenberg said in an interview this week.

The key, Greenberg said, is to look at a player's "body of work" rather than making snap judgments.

"I get a kick out of people getting on coaches," Greenberg said. "[Duke coach] Mike Krzyzewski coaches guys hard. [Kansas coach] Bill Self coaches his guys hard. Mark [Turgeon] coaches his team, and he knows his team better than anyone watching."

Two seasons ago, former Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin — who led the ACC in scoring in 2011-12 — appeared to slump on the bench and brood when Turgeon removed him from games.

Current Maryland forward Shaquille Cleare said players can't take such benchings personally.

"When he pulls me out of the game, it's not because he doesn't want me to play," Cleare said. "He just wants me to take my time, look at the game, see different things. I don't get mad when I go to the bench. I actually go there and try to absorb everything that I can, get to see the flow of the game."

But other players may become hesitant if frequently benched — afraid to take necessary risks on the court.

"Some guys start looking over their shoulder," said former Maryland star Len Elmore, now an analyst for CBS and ESPN. "You hear a horn blow and you start looking over your shoulder. We used to call it 'horn-itis.'

"The immediacy of taking a guy out right away is almost conditioning them that you have to be perfect," Elmore continued. "I know that's not the intention of the coach. When you finally take them out, you can have the assistant tell them, 'This is why I took you out.'"

Chuck Driesell, head coach of The Citadel and a former Maryland assistant, said it's important to be cognizant of the effect a benching might have on a player's psyche.

"I think a lot of it depends on whether the coach was a player or not," said Driesell, who played at Maryland from 1981-85 and is the son of legendary Terps coach Lefty Driesell. "If it's an effort-related mistake, I get him out. I try to wait until they do something better — or maybe until the next possession — so it's not negative on them."


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