Typically a major contract extension would erase all doubt on the immediate job security of a head coach. But with the roller coaster that has been Mark Turgeon's tenure at Maryland, there are always going to be critics until the Terrapins take the long-awaited step forward.
As the 2021-22 Terps' roster comes together, this season provides that opportunity to take the step as national contenders. Making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and a run in the Big Ten Tournament should be well within reach with the talent collected in College Park. But if Maryland doesn't put it all together again, the critics who called for a change after last season will be back in force.
This offseason Turgeon received a three-year extension that lasts through the end of the 2025-26 season. Each year after that he'll receive a competitive increase ($100,000) and a Big Ten regular season or tournament title or a deep run in the NCAA Tournament tacks a year onto the deal.
But the pressure remains and the stakes are high. With the extension came cheaper buyouts as well if the Terrapins were to part with Turgeon, as reported by the Baltimore Sun. It basically gave him more years and more money but allows the school to face less punitive buyouts if it decides to go in a different direction. After May 1, 2024, that price drops to just $2.5 million.
If the demand is to break through a frustrating NCA Tournament wall, Turgeon and his coaching staff responded. After the 2020-21 season ended, they quickly grabbed two key transfers (Fatts Russell, Rhode Island and Qudus Wahab, Georgetown) who directly address issues from last season's squad.
Of the three mainstays who announced intentions to go to the NBA Draft or transfer, one - Eric Ayala - stayed. Darryl Morsell, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year, transferred to Marquette and Aaron Wiggins remained in the NBA Draft.
For those keeping track, that's three returning starters from a second-round tournament team, including Hakim Hart and Donta Scott, and two high-impact transfers. In addition, two four-star freshmen (Julian Reese, Ike Cornish) arrive plus freshman James Graham, another four-star recruit who actually joined the team in January after completing high school early.
A lot of talent still resides in College Park with one scholarship left available to potentially lure a late transfer. With that talent, though, comes expectations.
A year ago, the Terps were in a rough roster spot after losing senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and NBA lottery pick Jalen Smith with Wiggins, Morsell, Ayala, Hart and Scott left behind. Maryland was going to have to compete with role players and little obvious depth. Throughout the season, Turgeon kept stating it was a 'rebuilding year' and continued that theme after their Tournament exit.
To his credit, his team overperformed and beat Connecticut in the first round of the NCAAs before proving no match for Alabama in the second round. But 'rebuilding' also came across as an excuse to some critics because it was a situation of Maryland's own making. There was no obvious replacement for Cowan even though he'd been the primary point guard for three years. There was little depth because previous recruits had flamed out.
Turgeon won't use the phrase "rebuilding" this time with so much high-level experience on hand even after losing Morsell and Wiggins. In reality, bringing all three back was unlikely and Turgeon recruited that way in the transfer portal.
Just to get Ayala to return was a win. Even with the two departures, this roster is still deep. Arguably, it is Turgeon's third-deepest starting five in what will be his 11th season with the Terps - behind only the 2016 Sweet 16 team and the 2020 Big Ten regular-season championship team.
But until there is a breakthrough, Turgeon's NCAA record will be used as a mark against him. Maryland has been competitive and it shared that Big Ten regular-season title just 16 months ago, but the NCAA Tournament resume is spotty.
Turgeon has a 5-5 tournament record and that one Sweet 16 appearance. There are mitigating circumstances. There was the crushing last-second loss to LSU in the second round of the 2019 tournament plus the pandemic-shortened 2020 season where the Terps expected to be a high seed and make a legitimate deep run. They just never got the chance.
But Turgeon's contract, if fully played out, will keep him at Maryland for 15 years. That single tournament run can't hold for a decade and a half. And this season may be his best chance to add another Sweet 16 appearance - or better - and give the coaching staff a chance to recruit off that success going forward and sustain it.
If he doesn't, if Maryland falls short of expectations with an experienced team, Turgeon could find the pressure quickly rising again. It makes for a fascinating season in College Park.