Basketball

Why Maryland’s men’s basketball coaching decision is so complicated

Why Maryland's men's basketball coaching decision is so complicated

Change is afoot at College Park, and while the Terrapins can feel good about their 84-73 win over Minnesota that closed the home game on the schedule – not to mention four wins in their last five games – the reality is the results at this point don’t matter. Manning is the interim coach who replaced Mark Turgeon in December. The NCAA Tournament — what once seemed like a birthright here — is a colossal long shot. What’s certain: The Terrapins will now be looking for their third full-time coach in the past 34 years.

“This job, if you go back and look at history, you look at tradition, great players, great teams, great coaches…” Manning said before the game against Minnesota. “I think there are so many positives here that it will always be an attractive place to attract coaches.”

This theory may well be true. It’s about to be tested. Which makes it a pivotal time in the history – the rich history – of Maryland basketball.

History, however, does not make this hiring. The present circumstances are more important. This is not an ACC job. It’s a job of the Big Ten. We can, have and will discuss the contours of this change. But that makes the process different from when Turgeon took over from Gary Williams who was retiring in 2011. That story that Manning is referring to, is part of what makes the job appealing? It’s in a league the new coach will never compete in.

What is done is done. But let’s say this right now: in any conference, there’s no candidate to take over after Turgeon’s 10-plus seasons that’s a combination of obvious, exciting and — that’s the tricky part. — realistic. As this process begins in earnest, it is almost as important to identify who habit be a legitimate candidate like who will to be.

Name of Rick Pitino has already happenedbecause there isn’t a more accomplished (or dangerous) possibility out there, but Thursday morning, the Hall of Famer said on Twitter that he would not take the job. That doesn’t mean the speculation will stop, as coaches say one thing and do another all the time. Pitino himself has already done just that.

But Pitino – the sexiest Hail Mary – is not the right solution anyway. Currently in rehab at Iona, Pitino will turn 70 before next season. He coached conference games against Williams – in the Great East when Pitino was at Providence and Williams at Boston College. The year? 1986! The next coaching search should start almost as soon as the old one was over. I would rather see Gary, a Hall of Famer himself, come out of retirement and run this flexible offense for a few seasons.

Moreover, the rental is going to be made by a particular administration at a given time. The state’s flagship university is led by a president, Darryll Pines, who has been in office for less than two years. It has a sports director, Damon Evans, who signed one men’s basketball player during his career – Mark Fox to Georgia in 2009. In nine seasons with the Bulldogs, Fox had more losing seasons (three) than appearances in NCAA tournaments (two). Evans’ next good men’s basketball hire will be his first.

Even though there are factions of Maryland decision-makers and boosters who would like to prosecute Pitino — despite his public protests — the whole operation seems too cautious to end up with a coach in his seventies whose last NCAA championship — 2013 at Louisville — was released following a sordid scandal that involved escorts on campus. A gunslinger could make this hire, public relations will be cursed. Does the current administration of Maryland brandish weapons? Should he?

Let’s move on. Once upon a time, the Alabama coach longed to leave the shadow of the Crimson Tide football program and work at a school where basketball rules, a school like Maryland. We no longer live in this world.

Maryland fans know Alabama coach Nate Oats. In the Terps’ last NCAA Tournament appearance last spring, Oats destroyed Turgeon’s Terps in the second round, an uncompetitive blowout that, in retrospect, showed programs going in opposite directions. Oats has a contract that pays him $3.225 million a year and runs through the 2026-27 season. The mere takeover of Oats — something close to $10 million — seems like a no-start for Maryland.

Also, let’s be realistic about the jobs. In Tuscaloosa, Oats is the beneficiary of a sports department that basically prints money. It will never run out of facilities or resources. As Manning said, “I don’t know what college athletics will be like later. [with] name, image and likeness. In Alabama, they will know and turn on the tap to ensure their most marketable athletes find their market.

Andy Enfield at USC? Boat similar to Oats – a contract that runs through 2025-26, and a salary that, before a run to the regional finals and its most recent extension, was already $3.1 million. It is no less now (although it is unknown because USC is a private institution). His ninth team Trojans are 25-5 and will reach the tournament again. Leaving Los Angeles… for College Park?

Maybe Maryland can compete on salary; Turgeon’s last contract was for five years and $17.5 million. But can it compete in cache? Can it compete in facilities? That’s part of what makes this time so interesting for Terrapins.

This hire won’t just reflect what the program has been like, which at various times was a national powerhouse that competed for — and won a — national championship. It will also be a good indication of where he is and what he may become. Maybe it’s still a Top 20 program, like it was under Lefty Driesell all those years ago, like it was under Williams this century.

But as Ayala and her classmates waved to the crowds on Wednesday night, that was far from certain. We know what Maryland basketball used to be, which is better than it is now. What we don’t know is whether – in a league that’s still new, in a rapidly changing environment – it can attract the kind of manager who would hand it over on a regular basis.