Sunday’s matchup between Maryland men’s basketball and Northwestern marked the first game following the announcement that Mark Turgeon and the program parted ways on Friday.
After the Terps’ 67-61 loss to the Wildcats in their first conference matchup of the season, interim head coach Danny Manning, senior guard Eric Ayala and junior guard Hakim Hart addressed the media and broke down what had happened over the last few days, how the emotion has settled in and what comes next.
However, the first person to address the media publicly before Manning was Northwestern men’s basketball head coach Chris Collins. Before he answered any questions, he took the opportunity to reflect on his career and how it led him to get to know Turgeon and what it was like preparing to play against his teams.
“I hope Coach Turgeon is being celebrated for what he did here. For 10 years I competed against that guy for a couple of years at Duke when I was an assistant, eight years in the Big Ten,” Collins said.
“I can tell you, trying to prepare to play against his teams, the players he has here, the winning, the way he did it, the kind of person he is. He’s a good basketball coach and a good man so I hope everyone around here will celebrate him for his tenure as you guys move forward.”
Then, Manning held his first postgame press conference as the interim head coach of the program started off his opening remarks talking about his relationship with Turgeon.
The two played together at the University of Kansas and in 1998 when Manning was a first-team all-American and led Kansas to the NCAA Championship title, Turgeon was on the coaching staff as an assistant.
So, in the spring of 2021, about a year after Manning and Wake Forest parted ways following his six-year stint as head coach, Turgeon reached out to Manning to offer him an assistant coaching position at Maryland. After the two spoke about the position for about a week, Manning accepted the job and the program announced shortly after that it had officially hired him as an assistant coach. Manning filled the spot left open by DeAndre Haynes who left the program for an assistant coaching job at Marquette.
“Turge is a good friend, teammate, coaching peer, mentor. I came to Maryland because of him,” Manning said. “I wanted to work alongside him... Nobody wanted to win more than Turgeon. He wanted to win. He wanted a top conference.”
On Friday, Dec. 3, when Turgeon addressed the team to share the news that he would no longer be with the program, they were supposed to practice earlier in the day. However, Manning shared they pushed the practice back a bit to give players time to digest the news, as he described there being a lot of emotion.
“I definitely felt those emotions. I came here three years ago he was a young guy. He trusted me. He believed in me,” Hart said.
Manning explained that they got on the court, moved a little but in his eyes, but more importantly, had the opportunity to sit down together and express their thoughts and feelings. The interim head coach described the feelings over the few days prior as a “tornado whirlwind of emotions” and that will continue which is why it’s important to him to continue to give players the space to process that.
“It was definitely tough. Nobody really expected it. You know, Coach Turgeon has done a lot for me. A lot of the guys here, a lot of us wouldn’t be here without Coach Turge. And I mean it’s still kinda unreal to describe the emotions I felt,” Ayala said.
“It kinda felt like when we heard that we wasn’t gonna get to play in the NCAA Tournament due to COVID. It kind of had that feel to it, that shock. Still try and get through and, you know, we got to keep fighting, keep trying to win games.”
Manning said the next day when the team came back together for another practice, he felt it went well, that the energy level was there and although the team did not get an outcome they were hoping for against Northwestern, they can build off the fight that was there.
Before the Northwestern game and after Turgeon parted ways with the program, Manning contact the parents of his players, who, in addition to going through this coaching change as an athlete are also closing out an academic semester.
“Ot was a challenging last couple of days, right? And you compound that with finals coming up, semester’s coming to an end,” Manning said. “So we just want to make sure that we reached out to [the parents] and let them know that we’re gonna do everything we can to continue to support them in any facet.”
Manning said when he spoke to parents he asked them to share information about their children that would help him and the rest of the coaching staff help them the most. The interim head coach asked parents to let him know if anything is going on whether that be a rough patch or a sick family member, anything that may have an impact on one of them, he wanted to know how to best help each of his players.
As the assistant coach who entered the program earlier this calendar year, Manning had limited interactions with the parents of his players and wanted to change that early in his transition to head coach for the time being.
“Just wanted to put my face... and let them know I’m gonna continue to follow in Turgeon’s footsteps and making sure that they’re taken care of the best we can and let them know that we love them and we want them to be successful young people,” Manning said.
Despite the shock Ayala, Hart and Manning expressed, they understood the challenges that come along with being a head coach and how that may have played a role in his decision. It’s well-documented the tension between the fan base and Turgeon. In what ended up being his final game coaching at Maryland, he was booed when he entered and exited and “Fire Turgeon” chants came in bursts throughout the game.
“You go through this and you go through a lot. Our families go through a lot and it gets tough,” Manning said. “It’s tough, and he just made the decision that he felt was best for himself, for his family but most importantly for this team. He thought our team needed a different voice... And so to me, an extremely unselfish piece for him to recognize that in his eyes, but also the follow through with. But that’s the Turge I know.”
In the initial release sent out by the program, Turgeon shared a similar sentiment.
“After several in depth conversations with 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,” said Turgeon. “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.
Turgeon had large shoes to fill in the eyes of Maryland fans as he came into the program following Gary Williams who helped rebuild the program following Len Bias’ death in 1986 and all that subsequently came a few years after, and led the program to its first national title.
Although Turgeon led the program to NCAA Tournament appearances in five of the last six seasons, six of the last seven when including the year the coronavirus pandemic canceled the tournament and won the 2020 Big Ten Championship, the fan base wanted more and were vocal about it.
After Maryland fell to Virginia Tech, a Maryland fan sent out a now-deleted tweet with a photo from the 2019-20 season about how he wanted Turgeon fired. In the tweet, he tagged the former head coach’s son, Will Turgeon, who plays basketball at Catholic University.
Following the announcement that Turgeon was leaving the program, Will responded to the tweet saying “It’s all [heart emoticon]...Won a ring that year. I love every single one of those guys behind the scenes… please support them better then you supported my family. [turtle emoticon, heart emoticon]”
In the comments section of the tweet, one fan asked which ring he was referring to and in less than an hour, Will responded with a photo of the Big Ten Championship ring and wrote “the one you must’ve forgotten about.”
“We know that he went through a lot with everything going on and the fan base,” Ayala said. “He wanted to put his family first. We all respect that. I know how much he loves his family. I admire him as a man for making that decision.”