Who Is Mark Turgeon?
The question that many Maryland fans are beginning to ask themselves is not Who is this Maryland team? or Who is Melo Trimble? They understand this is a team that starts three freshmen and is extremely perimeter oriented. The question that begs answers and is weighing on Terp fans minds is, Who is Mark Turgeon?
Turgeon has turned this program around in the last three years. He inherited lacking talent when Gary Williams left and had to begin the process of rebuilding. In his first few years however, he swung and missed on the players he brought in. Nick Faust, Shaquille Cleare, Seth Allen, Charles Mitchell, and Roddy Peters all ended up transferring and having success in some way elsewhere. Peters success was very limited because he has since been dismissed from South Florida and transferred again to Nicholls State. So after the first few seasons, Turgeon was in desperate need of a turn around. Since the Terps have entered Big Ten play in 2014-2015, they have finished top three in conference play and made it to the semifinals in back-to-back seasons. This may have been what saved Mark Turgeon’s job. In his first three years at Maryland, he was just 59-43 with zero NCAA tournament appearances and just a trip to the NIT semifinals under his belt.
The success since joining Big Ten play has reinvigorated the fans and even brought back in the casual fan that slowly departed after the lack of success after the national title year in 2002. The problem that has begun to arise is that fans are starting to believe Turgeon is limited as a coach and is just a good recruiter. Turgeon has done many positive things in recent seasons. He has brought in talented transfers and recruits, and he has made Maryland relevant once again. These are all great things, but what seems to be lacking is the development of individual players’ skills, as well as the lack of consistent play on offense specifically. The players that came in have slowly developed or not at all, including all of the transfers mentioned above, plus Michal Cekovsky, Damonte Dodd, Jared Nickens, and some would even argue Melo Trimble.
Let’s look at the coach that Turgeon is, not who he is not. Turgeon is a player’s coach. He gives his players a lot more freedom than other coaches do. When a coach does this it can help generate better camaraderie between teammates, but it can also backfire. In the first few years of his career at Maryland, it backfired. Some would even argue that it backfired last year, as the team seemed more focused on their payday than playing as a cohesive unit. Overall, since Maryland has entered the Big Ten, they have unarguably been successful as a team. Yes, everyone expected more last year with the immense talent on the team, but they also ran into a very good and balanced Kansas squad. This was the first year Maryland made the sweet sixteen since 2003, when Steve Blake led the squad. Turgeon has led Maryland to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and will do so again this year. Even toward the end of Gary’s admired reign, the team was very inconsistent in making the NCAA tournament. Nevertheless, Turgeon has provided some stability to that now, especially since he has brought in the right players in recent years.
Unfortunately for Turgeon, the future for this Maryland team appears to be vulnerable. Turgeon has had limited success in post-season play. In eighteen seasons as a head coach, Turgeon has made the NCAA tournament only seven times. In those seven seasons, he has led his teams to just two sweet sixteen’s- including one sweet sixteen game where he lead Wichita State by making a Cinderella run back in 2006. Turgeon’s teams seem to peak early in the season. This has also been shown while he has been at Maryland. His teams have won four straight early season tournaments, the Paradise Jam in 2013, the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in 2014, the Cancun Challenge in 2015, and the Barclays Center Classic this season. This all points back to the freedom he gives his players, especially on offense. Teams in early season play are still a work in progress; many teams struggle. Turgeon’s teams thrive in those situations. His players find ways to make plays and their freedom of play in the offense ends up working out for the better. You can get away with this in early season play. Once teams start improving and getting better is when other teams get exposed. This exposure has been happening to the Terps in recent seasons. They have become stagnant on offense later in the year and rely very heavily on perimeter-oriented play. Several examples of this are Terrell Stoglin, Seth Allen, Dez Wells and Melo Trimble. How many times since Turgeon has been coach do you see possessions in under ten seconds where the play ends with a pick and roll at the top of the three-point line where a guard forces a three or a drive to the basket? Maryland’s offense has been the same since Turgeon has been there; he just has better offensive weapons than when he started. One area where he has improved is drawing up plays after timeouts and in bound plays under the basket. In the past couple of seasons, Maryland’s execution has been leaps and bounds better than previous years.
All of this is not to deem Turgeon a failure. He has shown improvement over the years and also an ability to recruit at a level that his predecessor could not. He gets the most out of his players and gets them to buy in. Turgeon is still evolving as a coach, and he is only 52 years old and appears to have a lot left in the tank. For right now what you see is what you get in Coach Turgeon. You get a coach that has been extremely competitive since joining a new conference. You get a coach that loves being at Maryland. You get a coach that will bring in some of the best talent Maryland has had in the past 25 years. Yes, he is still a work in progress as far as X’s and O’s; but he will improve, as all good coaches do.
Since losing five of their last seven games, supporters have turned into haters at a rapid rate. Once the grumbling and complaining is silenced, Terp fans need to realize he just took a team that lost four pro’s last year and replaced them with three starting freshman and led them to the best start in Maryland’s storied history at 20-2.
So who is Mark Turgeon? That is up to him to decide.