Maryland fans have been under the spotlight not just in College Park, but all around the college basketball world since the departure of former head coach Mark Turgeon over a week ago.
There is no question about the role fans played in the departure of Turgeon. They were unhappy, demanded more, and let Turgeon hear it. Eventually, the fan-induced pressure was too much for Turgeon and he decided to step away.
Many coaches and national media members have supported Turgeon in recent weeks. If anything is clear, it is that Turgeon was well-respected and made a lot of friends in the coaching community over the years.
But let’s get one thing straight, these coaches are wrong. Not wrong to support their friend as he walked away from what had been his life the last decade, but wrong to chastise the fan base for their role in his departure.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said this when asked about Turgeon’s departure:
“Literally that fanbase just made it so miserable that it wasn’t worth it anymore,” Few said. He continued, “I don’t believe a college team should ever be booed. I’m sorry, not at home.”
It’s not surprising that Few — himself no stranger to falling short of postseason expectations— came to Turgeon’s defense. That’s fine, but to put the brunt of the blame on the fan base is ignorant and lazy.
To be clear, the fans booed Turgeon, not the team. it’s fine to say student-athletes shouldn't be booed, but for a coach, who is making millions of dollars, to hear some boos in year 10 of his tenure is not a crime, and shouldn’t be treated as one.
Dick Vitale, a former coach and legendary broadcaster, also expressed his displeasure with Maryland fans, tweeting this:
I have been around the game as a COACH & @espn hoops analyst for over 6 decades & I can tell u flat out MARK TURGEON is a VERY GOOD COACH ! MARK deserved better treatment from the fan base .@TerrapinHoops So SAD how they responded to him. https://t.co/jXdqqOVSiN— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) December 11, 2021
Maryland fans are passionate. They want to win and expect a lot out of their teams, sometimes unrealistically. Turgeon himself talked time and again about how amazing the fans are and the incredible atmosphere at the XFINITY Center, which he says helped his team win numerous games at home over the years. But passion is a two way street.
With the good, comes the bad. The treatment of Turgeon towards the end of his tenure wasn't a reflection of how good of a coach he was or how good of a person he was. It was a reflection of how his teams consistently underachieved in his years. That doesn't make him a bad coach, which he certainly isn't. But it did create a sense that his time had ran out at Maryland and fans wanted a change.
Now, let’s be clear, anyone who expressed vitriol towards any member of Turgeon’s family, either on social media or in person, is completely in the wrong. But it is wrong to impute that behavior to the majority of the fan base when it was likely a few bad apples who do not represent the Maryland community.
The reality is the criticism for Turgeon was justified. Again, that doesn't make him a bad coach, it means he underachieved at Maryland. One sweet sixteen appearance in 10 years isn't enough. One regular season conference title (shared with two other teams) isn't enough. Merely racking up regular season wins isn’t enough. Fans of this storied program rightly expect more.
To paint Turgeon as a victim, which certain coaches, media members and fans of other programs around the country are doing, is disingenuous. And by the way, he collected $5 million on his way out.
To be fair, Turgeon was dealt a tough hand throughout his tenure. To start, he followed a legendary coach that led the program to its only national championship. Then, a few years in, the school moved conferences from the ACC to the Big Ten, another difficult change for any program and coach.
And, of course, the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID, depriving Turgeon the chance to make a run with arguably the best team of his tenure. But debating what might have been is unproductive. It is clear that the time had come for both Maryland fans and Turgeon to move on.
It is also important to note that with the direction the season was headed, Turgeon was likely to be fired after the year. The fans’ vocal criticism may have just hastened the inevitable.
A common sentiment that has played out on social media too much over the past couple of weeks is: If I was a coach, I would never want to take the Maryland job because of the brutal fanbase.
Any coach who takes any job should understand the loyalty fans have is not to any coach, player or athletic director, it’s to the school. That’s not unique to Maryland. And because Turgeon had enough of the criticism and it took a toll on him and his family doesn't make Maryland fans bad people or Maryland a bad job.
In fact, any coach should want their student body and alumni to have the passion and enthusiasm for their basketball team that Maryland fans have shown to have. Most successful programs in college basketball have passionate fans behind them that they can rely on in big moments.
Who wouldn't want to coach in front of passionate, energetic fans, who will love you forever if you win? Yes, if you don't succeed, you will certainly be criticized, and in College Park, that criticism rings a little louder.
But that is the case for any big-time job at a big-time program. If you can't handle that, coaching at a high level probably isn't the profession for you.
Look, the people unhappy with fans pushing Turgeon out are right about one thing: The grass isn't always greener on the other side. But the grass wasn't exactly budding Turgeon’s last couple of years in College Park either.