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A look into potential head coaching candidates for Maryland men’s basketball

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Danny Manning will serve as the interim head coach.

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post

With the announcement of former Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland parting ways, the attention immediately shifts to potential coaching candidates who could replace Turgeon, although there is still a season to finish that has started in disappointment and shock.

For now, assistant coach Danny Manning will take the reins and finish the season off as the interim head coach. And while the university released an official statement saying a national search will take place after the season, the reality is that search really began when it became official Turgeon was out the door.

Maryland is a storied basketball program with a passionate fan base, a ton of history and a recruiting hotspot. There has been much debate on where this job ranks in the country, but there is little doubt it will be a highly touted job.

There are no official candidates at the moment, but many names have been thrown into the fire, with some making more sense than others. Maryland athletic director Damon Evans will certainly do his due diligence and let this process play out, but he has one important decision to make in the coming months. Here is a very early look at some of my top candidates for the job, in no particular order.

Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

Willard is considered one of the most underrated coaches in the country and has done a tremendous job building Seton Hall’s program. The pirates have made four of the last five NCAA tournaments and it would have been all five if the 2020 pandemic didn't force the cancellation of that year's tournament.

Willard has proven to be a good recruiter and has his teams competing year-in and year-out in a difficult Big East conference. With the abundance of resources at Maryland’s disposal, Willard would have an even easier time recruiting and building a team. While he’s had success at Seton Hall, Maryland is certainly a leg up in terms of the caliber of the program. It is hard to believe he wouldn't be interested if he gets a call.

Kim English, George Mason

When George Mason came to College Park a couple of weeks ago and upset the Terps, a mini social media movement began in favor of bringing Kim English to College Park. Turgeon himself gave a ringing endorsement of English and applauded the job he’s done at George Mason, having no idea he could become a coaching candidate at the job he would be leaving just a few weeks later.

English does not have any experience in a major conference, so this would probably be a dark-horse candidate for Maryland. The 33-year-old is from Baltimore and has a ton of connections to the area, but nonetheless, this would be a risky hire for Maryland that they might try to avoid.

Sean Miller

This might be the most common name brought up for the job in the hours since Turgeon’s departure. Miller is about as proven as anyone who would be available and has achieved a plethora of success in college basketball, most recently at Arizona. He also was in consideration for the Maryland job 11 years ago before Maryland hired Turgeon.

However, scandals have followed him since that led to his firing. It is not exactly clear the recruiting violations Miller and the Arizona program committed as the NCAA has not come out with an official ruling, but if Maryland made the splashy hire, those questions would continue to linger. Miller is a proven winner, but is it worth the risk for Evans?

Ed Cooley, Providence

Cooley is another popular name that has been thrown around. Maryland would certainly be a jump in terms of program exposure, and again, he would be someone who would benefit even more from the resources Maryland throws at its basketball program. At Providence, Cooley has had his teams in the NCAA Tournament way more times than not and has won almost 60% of his games. He did, however, sign a contract extension with Providence in 2019.

Nate Oats, Alabama

If Maryland can grab Nate Oats, it would be a home run hire, but it’s hard to tell if Oats would view a move to Maryland as lateral. It would likely come down to how much Maryland is willing to spend to pry Oats away from Alabama, and given they are still paying Turgeon $5 million dollars in the buyout, who knows what that maximum number would be. Oats is a terrific coach and has built a program with sustained success at Alabama with a fast play style Maryland fans would love to see in College Park.

Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure has become the team to beat in a competitive A-10 conference, in large part due to Schmidt’s success leading the program since 2007. He has made the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three that took place and has emerged as a highly respected coach and recruiter throughout the country. He certainly should be considered for the Maryland job, if he would want to make the move to a power five conference.

Danny Manning, Maryland interim head coach

Manning will lead this Maryland team the rest of the year, and if he is able to right the ship and lead this team into the postseason, and even make a run, he will certainly be considered as a candidate after the season. Manning has head coaching experience at Wake Forest, and while he didn't have a ton of success there, Maryland is a much different program in stature. Manning will likely only be considered if he can turn this thing around and the current players take a liking to him as the head man and would be convinced to stay if Manning was around after the year.

It is important to note that when coaching changes happen in college, players often transfer out of the program because they didn't commit to play for whoever the new coach is and that new coach isn't the one who recruited them there.

Who the next coach is, and if the current players feel comfortable with him, will determine the future of some of Maryland’s current starters.

Unlikely options:

There are many more names that have been thrown around such as Mike Brey at Notre Dame, Rick Pitino at Iona and John Beilein, who serves as a member of the Detroit Pistons front office. While those three names are certainly proven college basketball coaches and big names, they are all older who are on the downward trajectory of their careers. I can’t imagine Evans giving the job to someone who is older and might only coach for a few years. He will likely want to find someone who is youngish and will be committed for years.

Other names, that are more fantasy-like than reality are Steve Blake, Greivis Vasquez, and Juan Dixon. They all have some, while limited, coaching experience but are Maryland basketball legends in their own right. While I am sure they would love to come back and lead Maryland’s program, Evans will look for a candidate that is a proven winner at the collegiate level, not just a sentimental name.

Bruce Pearl is another out-of-the-box name that could get a call. However, it seems incredibly unlikely Pearl would leave an Auburn program he took to the final four two years ago to start over at Maryland. Again, for many of these guys as we’ve seen in the college sports landscape, it comes down to the money. If Maryland is willing to drop the bag for its next coach, then the conversation on who the next coach will be might be different. Pearl would be a great fit at Maryland and fans can continue to dream, but once they wake up, they'll realize it’s not too realistic.

Mike Jones is the former coach at DeMatha high school and current associate head coach at Virginia Tech, the school that came in and beat Maryland on Thursday that set in motion Turgeon’s resignation. Maryland has had little success recruiting players from DeMatha, a school just down the road from Maryland. Jones is a well-respected basketball figure in the area and just recently made the jump to the college level. He has no collegiate head coaching experience and it would be one bold move to hire Jones, but he is a dark horse candidate to keep an eye on.