Typically, columns are supposed to have a logical conclusion and answer at the end. I don't know about this one, however.
My consternation over this topic began harmlessly. A friend (who will remain nameless because of his connection to one of the schools involved), who knows I attended both UMBC and the University of Maryland, sent me a text over the weekend. It was after the
Retrievers stunned Vermont to win the America East championship
and a chance to play against No. 1 seed Virginia in the NCAA Tournament but before Maryland was embarrassingly left out of even the NIT.
"Hey man, you can have one coach at Maryland for the next five years. Who is it: Mark Turgeon or Ryan Odom?"
Reactionary, of course. But yet, man, I don't know.
Just to be clear, Turgeon is the head coach at Maryland and Odom coaches UMBC.
I have not hidden my criticisms of Turgeon. Despite now being on the job for seven years, he's accomplished … nothing of note. The best thing you could say about him is, "If he has Melo Trimble, he's capable of making the NCAA Tournament." Even his only actual accomplishment (reaching the Sweet 16 in 2016) came, in thanks, to the bracket breaking in his favor; the Terps only needed to face the No. 12 and No. 13 seeds in order to get to the second weekend of the tournament.
Maryland has never won an NCAA Tournament game against a single-digit seed under Turgeon.
Can he recruit? Sure. That's probably been a bit overstated during his tenure, but it's definitely his strength. He's pulled in three McDonald's High School All-Americans (Trimble, Diamond Stone and incoming freshman Jalen Smith from Mount St. Joseph.) He's also been solid when it comes to finding secondary talent, like sophomore guards Anthony Cowan Jr. and Kevin Huerter and sophomore forward Justin Jackson from this past year's team.
Trimble, who departed College Park, Md., for the NBA after the 2016-17 season, is the only true "star" Turgeon has had during his stretch. Trimble went undrafted and is currently playing in NBA G League.
It could be argued there's been some bad luck; who knows what type of player Jackson (shoulder injury) would have been had he stayed healthy this season. And other players have managed to reach the NBA despite not being "stars" in college, like Alex Len (Phoenix Suns) and Jake Layman (Portland Trail Blazers). But it's difficult to suggest there have been players who have gotten markedly better during their time playing for Turgeon.
Considering the school will almost certainly not be firing Turgeon despite the embarrassment of missing the postseason altogether this season, the coach will have another season to change as many of these criticisms as possible.
But in the other corner, there's second-year UMBC men's head coach Ryan Odom. The coach who has won at least 20 games in each of the last two years at a school that had previously lost 21 or more in seven straight seasons. The coach who managed to get his team to snap a decade-long losing streak to America East power Vermont in order to win the program's first conference title since 2008. He's also the coach who is somehow both more than 20 years into his career and also a "rising up-and-comer" of sorts. He's also the son of Dave Odom, the extremely successful former Wake Forest and South Carolina head coach. He was kind of born to do this.
Odom is going to be a hot name on the market this offseason. Schools and coaching firms will be discussing if not seriously considering and perhaps interviewing him for bigger jobs. It's not a guarantee he'll get an offer that will make him decide to depart Catonsville, Md., but with the senior trio of Jairus Lyles, K.J. Maura and Jourdan Grant leaving UMBC at the end of the season, it seems like it might prove to be the best time to depart.
Is it a guarantee Odom will be able to parlay his initial success into a lengthy career at a school in a power conference? Of course not. But does he seem like a reasonable bet at the moment? Probably a better bet than No. 10 seed Oklahoma reaching the Final Four. If you wanted to criticize Odom you'd probably mention that he inherited Lyles, who transferred from VCU before former UMBC head coach Aki Thomas was fired. But Odom helped keep Lyles from departing for an early start on a likely professional career and has been credited with turning him from a pure scorer to a more complete basketball player.
This is all a bit silly because as I mentioned, it seems impossible that Maryland would move on from Turgeon at this point. But a year from now? If Turgeon's team again disappoints, a likely new athletic director could well decide it's time to move on. If Odom stays at UMBC, it would seem improbable for a Big Ten program to hire a coach from the America East, but it has happened; in 2016 Rutgers hired Steve Pikiell away from Stony Brook. And if Odom were to leave for a job between UMBC and Maryland -- say, East Carolina? -- a successful campaign could keep him on Maryland's radar.
So with that in mind, would I rather Turgeon or Odom be the coach at Maryland for the next five years? I genuinely don't know. And that probably says a lot.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox and Courtesy of UMBC Athletic Communications