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Maryland Terrapins Coach Search Part One: Job Appeal

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Media Days Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland Terrapins are the first Power Six program in the country to be looking for a head coach in the 2021-22 cycle and it isn’t even Christmas yet. Former head coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland mutually agreed to part ways and formally announced the decision on Dec. 3. This comes on the heels of Turgeon and Maryland signing a three-year extension for the head coach just this past April.

That means that Maryland is the first to the plate this cycle among major programs on the coaching carousel. However, where do the Terps sit in the hierarchy of college basketball? Most people in the world of college athletics would likely consider Maryland to be a basketball school, and UMD has a proud history historically including the national title in 2002. However, that will have been 20 years ago this spring. So just how appealing is the Maryland job to a potential hire in Dec. 2021?

The Terps are in the eighth academic year of membership in the Big Ten, having announced departure from the Atlantic Coast Conference in the fall of 2012. Turgeon became the head coach in College Park back in the ACC days when only Nebraska had just made the departure to the Big Ten from the Big 12. Since then, Maryland has won just a share of one conference title and made a single Sweet 16 appearance. In fact, the Terps have only made two Sweet 16 appearances since the national title in 2002 and 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament overall (plus an all but guaranteed bid in the cancelled 2020 tournament as well).

Of course, the 2019-20 season was also when the Terps won a share of the Big Ten regular season crown. Maryland had an elite team that may very well have made a trip to at least the second weekend, but we can never know thanks to COVID-19. Either way, the resume of the program in the going on 20 seasons since the national title is a lackluster one, to put it mildly. Is that really the mark of a program among the elite of college basketball? Who is the elite, for that matter?

Obviously there is the clear cut answer at the top regarding the bluest of the blue bloods, the Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Kentucky. Obviously UCLA is often mentioned here, but realistically the program is more of a historical powerhouse than a modern one, at least for now. Below those established programs, it becomes murkier.

Any list of other top basketball programs would likely include in no particular order of one above the other: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Gonzaga, Indiana, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Syracuse, Villanova, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Does Maryland fit in with those programs right now? Does just two Sweet 16 appearances in the past 19 years equate to an elite program? Most might argue no.

How about other program barometers that make a job appealing? Typically money, facilities, and recruiting would fill out these categories with another loose factor being conference affiliation and affiliated rivals. Let’s see how Maryland fits into the picture in these appeal factors.

Finances

Grant it my figures are a bit dated here from the end of last season and several have COVID-19 related reductions and some have been let go already, but four Big Ten coaches were in the top-25 salaries with two coming in at top-10 (Fred Hoiberg at No. 10 and Tom Izzo at No. 7). Based purely on those numbers, which some of course saw salary bumps such as Baylor’s Scott Drew (No. 20 last season) and Michigan’s Juwan Howard (who did not crack the top-25 last season, but was given an extension valued at more than Turgeon’s), Turgeon’s new salary under his extension would have put him tied at No. 21 with Archie Miller’s $3.3 million at Indiana (obviously since fired).

Do the Terps have the pockets to go all-in on a top notch hire? Heading into the rough financial year caused by the pandemic, Maryland had just over $24 million in athletic department owned debt and generally struggles to produce much in the way of revnue compared to Big Ten peers. However, the program is set to begin receiving its full share of Big Ten revenue beginning next academic year, though some of that money was given in advance as a loan by the Big Ten and will be cut from the top as a payback to the league.

All of that to say that it seems Maryland would struggle to find the deep pockets needed to get the elite of the elite, but should be able to find the funding sources to get a top-25 hire in terms of salary for the right candidate.

Facilities

XFINITY Center is one of the consistently top-rated venues in the country, so home court advantage is no missing factor here for a candidate. However, dig beneath the surface and Maryland is one of just three Power-Six programs lacking a dedicated practice facility. The other two programs lacking one? Boston College and Cal. Even nearby Big East member Georgetown has a dedicated practice facility for both men’s and women’s teams (though perhaps a more needed investment given Capital One Arena is the shared home venue).

However, this was a big point of contention for Turgeon who spent years trying to find a way to get a project for one started. Maryland did announce in Oct. 2019 plans for a new $36 million facility to be connected to XFINITY Center, but the quick onset of COVID-19 shelved it with just $19 million raised. The project still remains on the drawing board with no clear path to a first shovel ceremony on the horizon. Whether considered a luxurious excess to those outside of college hoops or not, it is the norm for programs Maryland hopes to out recruit and a true advantage in practice schedules when it boils down to it.

Recruiting

The DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) area has plenty of homegrown talent each year. The immediate area, even with DC traffic congestion, has produced three 247Sports Composite top-25 players total the past two recruiting cycles, and another two inside the top-50, all within an hour drive time. In fact, Fairfax, VA was the farthest locality from XFINITY Center, a mere 32 miles away (though rush hour on the 495 beltway can make it seem further). There is more than enough talent in the region to put together a regular conference, or even national, contender with the right coach.

Conference Affiliation

The Big Ten still feels like a mixed bag for Maryland here. To both the fan base and other Big Ten programs, it still feels like an awkward fit almost a decade in. The Terps were an established ACC program with long-time rivals like Duke and North Carolina, but also Virginia, N.C. State, and Wake Forest. Rutgers and Penn State, at least in basketball, are hardly a natural overnight replacement, let alone programs like Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska (the Huskers and Terps arenas are 1,202 miles and almost 18 hours apart by car after all).

When Mark Turgeon took over the program, it seemed like he walked into an ACC program and instead had to navigate the move to the Big Ten. Without the kind of natural history against rivals and other league members, does that hurt a program? Then again, the Big Ten has been a surging power in the college hoops landscape of late. However, the national title drought continues to grow with each year since Michigan State’s 2000 title was the last one won by a Big Ten program.

So where does Maryland fit in?

The evidence is there to suggest Maryland has potential to draw a top-25 caliber head coach. The evidence is also there that it may be difficult to make that hire, though. Maryland has a lot of advantages, but has enough question marks in some of the key metrics like facilities, financials, and recent success that it could cause some of the top hires the Terps may try to target pause. Will that pause be something the right donor can resolve? Only time will tell, but the evidence might suggest Maryland may not be quite the draw fans might hope it is.

Be sure to check back for our look at some of the top targets Maryland may try to lure in part two!

Poll

What type of program is Maryland in the college hoops landscape?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Top-10?
    (25 votes)
  • 59%
    Top-25?
    (127 votes)
  • 21%
    Outside Top-25, but definitely Top-30?
    (45 votes)
  • 7%
    Outside the Top-30?
    (17 votes)
214 votes total Vote Now

Bonus Category: The Fans

The fanbase of Maryland has been criticized by many top coaches in the community as having run a quality head coach out of town. The dissatisfaction with Turgeon is more than a few seasons old at this point and not something I am trying to fully hash out. Whether fair or not, the perception the fanbase doesn’t properly appreciate a good head coach could be something working against the effort at getting a quality new hire.

However, it is hard to quantify this factor as plenty of competitive candidates look at previous head coaches and believe they have the skills to do better. Some, however, might look at that and conclude they won’t be given a fair shot to. This is more of a wild card category and thus not one that can be easily quantified, but is certainly something that will come up in a candidate’s decision making.