Mark Turgeon missed the NCAA Tournament in each of his first three years at Maryland, then watched five players transfer, all of of which created the perception that Year Four could be a make-or-break deal. Show real improvement, make the NCAA Tournament, and he would get a fifth season. Otherwise, he might not.
Turgeon responded by going 28-7 in 2014-15.
Then he returned two of his top three scorers, enrolled two McDonald’s All-Americans, and Maryland was ranked third in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll heading into the 2015-16 season. And it is with that backdrop that I visited Maryland’s campus just before the start of that season to spend some time with the Terrapins. I talked with Turgeon about lots of things — but mostly about what it was like to enter the previous season on the so-called Hot Seat, and how great it felt to turn things around. The result was a positive story that detailed how a coach survived and flourished. But at one point I did note how quickly things can flip back around on a coach who persevered and actually wrote the following words:
Turgeon only needed to win enough last season to show real progress and calm his fans, and a trip to the Round of 32 qualified as enough. But a second-place finish in the Big Ten and a loss in the Round of 32 this season will technically be disappointing, relative to expectations, because there’s potential for much more. So, as always, there’s a new bar to meet.
Fast-forward five months, and Turgeon’s 2015-16 team did indeed disappoint relative to preseason expectations (even if they did make the Sweet 16), and, from that point forward, he never returned to the good graces of Maryland’s fanbase (even if he did take the Terrapins to five of the past six NCAA Tournaments). His teams were almost always good — but never truly great. Maryland fans forever wanted more and/or a different coach. And now, just eight games into Turgeon’s 11th season, he’s gone.
“After several in-depth conversations with [Maryland AD] Damon [Evans], I have decided that the best thing for Maryland Basketball, myself and my family is to step down, effective immediately, as the head coach of Maryland Basketball,” Turgeon announced. “I have always preached that Maryland Basketball is bigger than any one individual. My departure will enable a new voice to guide the team moving forward.”
What a remember most about my time at Maryland just before the start of the 2015-16 season is a conversation I had with Mark Turgeon about entering the previous season with his job very much on the line and the impact it had on his family, most notably his oldest son, William, who was a teenager at the time. As the story goes, the father and son were in a car together. That’s when William asked the question.
“He said, ‘Dad, do you think you’re going to get fired?'” Turgeon recalled.
The way I remember it, Turgeon explained that his oldest son was simply worried about having to move again because that kind of stuff isn’t always easy for young people. They had, just three years earlier, moved from Texas A&M to Maryland, leaving friends behind. Now, William feared, he’d have to move again.
Turgeon told his son everything would be OK.
That’s what dads always do.
And it was OK — for the most part. But the truth is that Turgeon lost part of the fanbase when that 2015-16 season didn’t go as planned. And when he never got back to the Sweet 16 in any season after that, it was just one frustrating year after another — the lone exception being the 2019-20 season in which Maryland finished tied for first in the Big Ten but never got a chance to make a run through the bracket due to the fact that the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled because of a global pandemic caused by COVID-19.
As for this season, it started with promise thanks to some transfers Turgeon added; Maryland was ranked in the preseason. But the Terrapins lost three of their first eight games, including one at home to George Mason. So the boos inside the Xfinity Center were starting to outweigh the cheers. By all accounts, it took a toll on Turgeon. So Wednesday night, after a loss at home to Virginia Tech, Turgeon and Evans started discussing a possible divorce, according to The Washington Post. Two days later, it was done.
The most improbable part of this story is that Turgeon actually lasted eight full seasons after he first showed up on everybody’s Hot Seat lists, eight full seasons after his oldest child asked if he thought he was on the verge of being fired. That’s not usually how these things work. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned while covering this sport for two decades, it’s that once a fanbase stops believing in a coach, it’s very difficult for the coach to ever win that fanbase back over. Not impossible, but certainly very difficult.
Turgeon never did.
That’s partly what led to this.
Earlier this week, after Maryland dropped to 5-3, some jerk with a Twitter account decided to tag William Turgeon, now an adult, in a tweet endorsing his father’s termination. (Regardless of how you feel about any coach’s job performance, we should be able to agree that tagging the coach’s children is pretty classless.) Naturally, William saw it. Less than an hour after his father resigned Friday, William responded.