Mark Turgeon is at Maryland now, a place that admittedly has more basketball prestige than A&M, but will definitely have higher expectations. A warning to Coach Turgeon: Maryland fans will not tolerate middle of the conference finishes and early tourney exits nearly as well as the much maligned Aggie fans did; you're about to see just how good you had it in College Station. Maryland fans will not be nearly as understanding about 50 point scoring outputs and blowout losses against rivals Texas and Baylor... uh, I mean Duke and North Carolina. Maryland fans will not patiently hope for that one sweet sixteen run that might happen another two or three or four years down the road. Maryland fans will likely show up in hordes for a non-conference game against Pittsburgh State Veterinary College during the middle of Christmas break, so you won't have to constantly whine about attendance, but they will be expecting championships, and not just tournament appearances. Coach Turgeon, if you win just like you did at A&M, they're gonna run you off in four years. I hope you can step it up.
Now that I've gotten that off of my chest, on to the new direction, the Bill Kennedy direction. Mark Turgeon was a good coach. He wasn't great, but he was solid. I am not now, nor was I ever 100% on the Turgeon bandwagon, but he did impress me at times. I felt jilted once again when he left, but I wasn't completely broken up about it. I saw this as an opportunity for A&M basketball to get over the hump that Turgeon came close to, but could not quite conquer. I saw this as an opportunity for Athletics Director Bill Byrne to make a national statement about the program. Big name coaches were being thrown about as possible replacements, even NBA lifer Jeff Van Gundy was rumored to have been contacted. Marquette head coach, and former Billy Gillispie disciple Buzz Williams seemed like the top target, and a great fit for Aggieland. But, that didn't happen. It was rumored that money was a sticking point, and that Byrne and the major Aggie donors were unwilling to drop enough cash for the program to take that next step.
Then the final rumors were squeezed out of the mill. It became clear that the next A&M basketball coach would be Murray State's Bill Kennedy. He seemed like a solid choice, but not nearly the kind of splash that A&M needed. He had a solid record at a solid mid-major program. He was a lot like Turgeon. A little too much like Turgeon. He was described as a low-key personality, as someone who could put you to sleep during his press conferences. His coaching style was described as defensive oriented, with a slow and plodding offense (oh, no... not again). I was not thrilled with the hire.
Then I heard his press conference. He talked with a noticeable, down-home, Louisiana accent. He had jokes. He made people laugh. I thought, "wait a minute, this guy DOES have some personality". He sounded dynamic, like he could be the kind of coach that could galvanize the fan base the way Gillispie had. He talked about recruiting the top players in Texas. He talked about scoring within the first seven seconds of the shot clock on offense, and about playing stifling defense. I thought that maybe I had been too hasty in my judgement. Then he talked about winning National Championships... plural... as in multiple times. I thought that maybe I could give this guy a shot.
The new coach will have some work to do. Mainly hitting the recruiting trail hard, and pulling in the type of players that Turgeon never could, the type of players that make it to the NBA. That is how the A&M program will take the next step. It remains to be seen if Kennedy can do this, but my first impression is that he knows what it will take to make it happen. His first big challenge will be to lure prized Bryan, TX recruit J-Mychal Reese to A&M over offers from Texas, Kansas and other top national programs. Reese is the kind of player that can single-handedly bump a program into the upper echelon, the way Kevin Durant did for Texas. Kennedy has already locked down the two top recruits that had committed to Turgeon before his departure and will have a good roster of returning starters to work with in his first season. If he can manage to add Reese to that mix, I will be 100% on the Bill Kennedy bandwagon.
I have hopes and dreams for the future of Aggie Athletics, just as most do, but I will have to sit back and wait to see if they come to fruition. One thing is for certain though, the Aggies have a new basketball coach, and he seems to fit into that maroon blazer pretty well. Welcome aboard Aggie Bill Kennedy, and here's to winning championships, the Aggie way.