Thank you, Maryland men’s basketball fans.
First, thank you to the fans who showed up for the Northwestern game Sunday. We were a small crowd — something that used to be rare for Xfinity Center and for University of Maryland men’s basketball. Sadly it has become far too common in recent years. Now that Maryland and Mark Turgeon have parted ways, I hope this will soon become a thing of the past.
Most importantly, I want to thank Maryland fans for holding this program to a higher standard. I will not rehash the arguments against the outgoing coach — something that all fans, myself included, have undoubtedly argued about ad nauseam. It has been clear to most of us for some time now that a change was necessary. Indeed, the worst symptom of the late Turgeon era had begun to truly sit in: apathy. I am a Marylander, born and raised. I have an undergraduate and graduate degree from this university. I am a university employee, season ticket holder, Terrapin Club member and College Park resident. Needless to say, I have an immense amount of pride in this university.
Foolish or not, a significant part of that pride stems from the success and winning legacy of our basketball program. With such a passionate fanbase at Maryland, I know I’m not alone. Yet, the longer Turgeon was at the helm, the more alone I felt. The crowds grew thinner and more quiet, while many lifelong fans and season ticket holders simply lost interest.
Outside observers of the sport will be surprised to hear of Turgeon’s departure, lacking the necessary context to know the true atmosphere around the program. Many have expressed their shock and dismay that such a great coach was run off by unruly fans. Others, clutching their pearls, are presumably outraged after boos were directed at the coach in his final game. (For anyone truly upset by this, here are just a few million reasons why I think Turgeon will be OK.) Reactions like this don’t bother me.
This isn’t the first time people have complained about Maryland fans being too harsh. And, of course, it was no surprise to Turgeon or anyone else that Maryland fans have intense passion for this program; it’s part of what led him to take the job in the first place. The support for basketball here and the gameday atmosphere are a huge part of why it is a top job in the sport.
What does bother me, however, is the insinuation that the high expectations of Maryland fans are somehow unreasonable.
Do not believe this for one second.
Despite the recent stretch of postseason mediocrity, this program has occupied a space of prominence and relevance in the college basketball landscape. Make no mistake, we are not a blueblood, and no Maryland fan is arguing otherwise. But since Lefty Driesell arrived here in 1969, Maryland basketball has almost always been in that second tier and in the upper echelon of great college basketball programs. And while some might comically bend over backwards to diminish his legacy, everyone knows what Gary Williams did for the program, saving it from near collapse and reaching college basketball’s crowning achievement.
There is a reason defenders of Turgeon will only compare his resume to the unsatisfying end of Williams’ coaching career, instead of Williams’ stretch of 11-straight tournament appearances, which included Sweet 16 finishes, two Final Fours and of course, a national championship. Summarizing the impact of Maryland on college basketball in a single column would be impossible, but the history of the game cannot be written without our program, its iconic coaches and its legendary players.
So why settle now? Why be complacent? After two Hall of Fame coaches, why should simply making the NCAA tournament be enough? I would argue, if anything, this fanbase has been incredibly patient.
Contrary to the strawmen these critics have erected, Maryland fans understand that Turgeon was a good coach. The results simply are what they are. By all accounts he is also a great person and fans understand there could be far worse ambassadors for our university. That is why it was so disappointing to see a few bad apples, who are unrepresentative of the fanbase, go after his family online.
College basketball is a tight-knit community, and the desire by those in the media to defend Turgeon’s record here is understandable. But it is both ignorant and disingenuous to do so by diminishing the history and legacy of Maryland basketball.
In the coming months I hope more fans come out to support the players and program. I’m excited to see what comes next for the team and I’m confident that athletics director Damon Evans understands the importance of this moment. I hope he makes a strong hire who can revive the program and bring it back to national prominence. It’s certainly possible the next coach could be worse, but don’t think for a second that this school, this program and its fans shouldn’t expect better.
John Keniston is a senior faculty specialist in the department of geographical sciences and a Terp fan. You can argue with him about Maryland basketball at firstname.lastname@example.org