The Maryland Terrapins' men's basketball team is currently in the middle of a crucial time in program history following the sudden departure of longtime head coach Mark Turgeon.
With the direction of Maryland's program unclear moving forward, legendary Terps head coach Gary Williams joined the Sports Junkies on Tuesday and expressed the importance, in his opinion, of making the right hire for the team's next head coach.
"The most important thing in this situation is we've got to get a great coach," Willams said. "This is critical."
With Turgeon's departure occurring so early into the season, Maryland has a head start on other programs when finding its next head coach. There are several different directions the program can go, but Williams candidly isn't sure what the best avenue is to take.
"You can go old school. You can go young assistant, but you really have to be careful," Williams said.
Williams pointed out how both Duke and North Carolina have gone the young assistant route. Hubert Davis took over for Carolina's Roy Williams this season after nearly a decade on his bench as an assistant. For Duke, former Blue Devils guard and current assistant Jon Scheyer is slated to take over for Mike Krzyzewski following the season.
Even though both Duke and UNC chose to hire assistants to replace their respective legendary coaches, Gary Williams isn't sure that will necessarily lead to immediate success.
"When you look at Duke and North Carolina, did you ever think you would see an assistant coach at Carolina that never coached a game before in his life as the head coach at Carolina?" Williams said. "Duke’s the same thing. [Jon] Scheyer has been with Krzyzewski, but he’s never coached a game on his own in his whole life, not high school, not anywhere, and he’s the head coach for next year."
There are numerous veteran coaches that could be considered for the vacant Maryland job, too. Iona's Rick Pitino and former Michigan boss John Beilein are two names Williams mentioned specifically. Even so, those two coaches have some red flags as well.
"The veteran guys are out there. Pitino had a great win, but he’s had some losses to go along with that win," Williams said. "And John Beilein, do you want a guy that old as John Beilein? John Beilein is a hell of a coach but he’s gotta be close to 70 now and it didn’t work out when he was [coaching] Cleveland [Cavaliers]."
Williams was a vocal supporter of Maryland's former coach throughout Turgeon's 11-year run with the Terrapins. Although Turgeon never had the postseason success that Williams did with the Terps, he won a lot of games for the program, leaving College Park with a 226-116 record (.661 winning percentage).
Yet, Turgeon's lack of NCAA Tournament success with Maryland -- one Sweet 16 appearance in 11 years -- is what Williams believes led Terps fans to sour on the head coach.
"I think that's a big change in college basketball. [The fans] put lesser creditability on the regular season and more on the NCAA Tournament," Williams said. "I was getting that as time went on. I guess that bothered Mark. Fans get on you, and now with the internet and everything, you can't read that stuff. I've heard coaches say 'I don't listen to it.' Well, if I hear it I listen to it. I'm going to hear it."
Turgeon, who signed an incentive-based contract extension with Maryland this past offseason, faced lots of pressure entering this season. The Terps struggled last season but still rallied enough to make the NCAA Tournament, where they were ousted by Alabama in the Round of 32.
This season, though, expectations were high. The team was ranked No. 21 preseason and expected to compete for a Big Ten title. Early season losses to George Mason and Virginia Tech likely only expedited the process of Turgeon leaving his post. Still, Williams was surprised at how quickly everything happened.
"Okay, you lose those games [to George Mason and Virginia Tech]," Williams said. "But if he wins in the Big Ten, that's all forgotten. You know how people are. You get on a roll, you win five or six in a row in the Big Ten, everybody is happy again. That's what surprised me. Yeah, [he] lost to Mason. I lost to American one year right before Christmas. You move on. You've got to win those next games, obviously. You just got after it and see what happens."
Williams went on to say he felt Turgeon was "tired" and that the losses not only impacted him but his family as well.
As for the current Maryland team, Williams believes it's imperative for them to turn the current season around in order to attract outside coaches to the vacant job.
"We were picked 21st in the country and fifth or sixth in a very good basketball league preseason this year," Williams said. "If I'm [interim coach] Danny Manning and I'm coaching this week, I've got a week to get ready for a team that lost to Florida Southern last night, I'm preaching to the players 'people thought we were good before this happened. We've lost some games, but now we can go.'"
Manning, who was named interim head coach following Turgeon's departure, will have the remainder of this season to audition for the full-time gig. For both his future and the direction of Maryland's program moving forward, it's vital the team shows it can compete this season.
"You've got to stay good this year," Williams said. "You can't let it slide where we're not considered to be a good program. Because if Danny Manning doesn't get the job, you want to get the best possible coach you can get. That's really critical, right now, that we play well."