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The New Coaches (Part Two)

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By AL FEATHERSTON

Four coaches have just completed their first season in the ACC. Well, to be completely accurate - three have completed their first seasons, while the fourth first-year coach is still alive in the NCAA Tournament.

Before we continue our survey of the eight new ACC coaches by looking at the four first-year coaches, I'd like to correct one mistake I made in yesterday's survey of the second and third year coaches. I said that six of the eight coaching changes in the league over the last three years were precipitated by firings. That's not true - three coaches left of their own accord: Maryland's Gary Williams retired; Miami's Frank Haith left to take the Missouri job; and Oliver Purnell of Clemson bolted to DePaul.

Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, Boston College's Al Skinner, N.C. State's Sidney Lowe, Wake Forest's Dino Gaudio and Virginia's Dave Leitao WERE fired.

Now the first year coaches:

MARK TURGEON, Maryland

In contrast to Jeff Bzdelik's unimpressive resume at Wake Forest, Mark Turgeon brings an impressive track record to College Park. He took over a bad situation at Jacksonville State and made them better. He took over a bad situation at Wichita State and made them better (including a Sweet 16 trip). He took over a slightly better situation at Texas A&M and had them in the NCAA Tournament four straight years.

It pays to buy quality.

Turgeon inherited a Maryland program rocked by the early NBA defection of center Jordan Williams and hamstrung by years of lackadaisical recruiting efforts by Gary Williams. He's had to re-establish the school's recruiting ties to the basketball hotbeds in Baltimore and the Washington, D.C. area.

The results of those efforts won't show up right away, but Turgeon has already demonstrated his coaching skills with this undermanned team. He's been plagued by injuries to point guard Pe'Shon Howard and eligibility issues with Lithuanian big man Alex Len, yet with all the bad luck, this Maryland team finished just one game worse in ACC play than last year's Gary Williams-coached team - the one with Jordan Williams, Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Dino Gregory.

Of course, to become a real contender, Turgeon has to add some major talent. He's also recorded one huge score on the recruiting trail - 6-9, 270-pound Shaquille Cleare, a top 25 prospect from Houston and the jewel of a five-man class that also includes imposing power forward Charles Mitchell of Atlanta and talented 6-8 wing Jake Layman. Turgeon is still in the mix for a number of players, including top 50 wing Torian Graham and guard Sam Cassell Jr. - a Baltimore product and the son of the former NBA player from Florida State.

Of course, next year's prospects probably depend on whether or not high-scoring guard Terrell Stoglin returns for his junior year. There were timed this season that Maryland's best player and the team's coach butted heads - most notably after the loss at Duke. But the two seemed to have reached an accommodation by ACC Tournament time.

If Stoglin does return - and Howard returns to full health, Turgeon will have a nice nucleus to build around. Athletic wing Nick Faust finished strong in his freshman season and the 7-foot Len showed a lot of promise. Add the new guys and the Terps should be in contention for a 2013 NCAA bid.

There's little doubt that Turgeon will succeed at Maryland. He may or may not be as successful as Gary Williams was from 1990-2002, but he'll almost certainly do a better job than Gary Williams did from 2003-2011 (when he missed the NCAA Tournament in four of nine years - including four of the last seven).

JIM LARRANAGA, Miami

Talk about track records. After a fairly undistinguished 11-year run at Bowling Green, the former Virginia assistant took over a down-and-out George Mason program in 1997 and built a mid-major juggernaut. In 14 seasons, Larranaga guided the Patriots to five NCAA trips - including a Final Four in 2007 - three NITs and a CIT.

He inherits a Miami program that managed just one NCAA trip in seven seasons under Frank Haith … one that had never had a winning season in the ACC.

Haith did leave a pretty talented cupboard of veteran players, but injuries hobbled his two most experienced big men (Julian Gamble for the season; Reggie Johnson for the first third of the season) and a variety of other issues have hurt with veterans such as DeQuan Jones, Garrius Adams, Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant.

Still, Larranaga brought the Hurricanes home with a 9-7 ACC record - the best finish for Miami since joining the ACC. He just missed the NCAA Tournament (the 'Canes were among the four teams contending for the final at-large spot that St. Bonaventure stole by winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament). He did have Miami in the NIT and the 'Canes won a first round game before their embarrassing second-round meltdown against Minnesota.

Best of all, he's done with little help from his senior class - seniors Grant and Jones have been good in the past during their careers, but not down the stretch this season. Barring any unexpected defections, he'll have basically the same team next season - adding the veteran Gamble up front, along with highly regarded redshirt guard Bishop Daniels. He's signed one big-time wing guard - Melvin Johnson from the Bronx.

Obviously, the short-term outlook is very bright in Miami, although if Larranaga hopes to sustain it, he'll need to score more often on the recruiting trail.

BRIAN GREGORY, Georgia Tech

There was no way that Gregory was going to win this season. He inherited two returning starters off a 13-18 team. Plus, he arrived just in time for a season when the Yellow Jackets were forced to split their home games off campus in Gwinnett Arena in the suburbs and Phillips Arena downtown.

To make matters worse, the transition between Paul Hewitt and Gregory created some inevitable difficulties. Hewitt's best recruit changed his mind and didn't come. Brian Oliver, the team's second-most talented returning player, opted to transfer. His best returning player - Glen Rice - turned into a problem child that spent more time on suspension than on the court.

Is it any wonder that Gregory's first Georgia Tech team has struggled to escape the ACC basement?

Yet, there have been signs that Gregory might get it done in Atlanta. I talked to an NBA scout recently who raved about the developmental job Gregory is doing with young big men Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey. His team works very hard on defense. He's off to a good start recruiting, landing a stud in 6-8 Robert Carter. He's in it for some nice wings, including Sam Cassell Jr.

Next year when the Jackets move back into their refurbished Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Gregory will have a loaded frontcourt and  a nice collection of wings, including Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole. Only Mfon Udofia's inconsistency at the point could prevent the Jackets from making a big jump in year two of the Gregory regime. Maybe Corey Heyward, a lightly regarded point guard recruit with good bloodlines (his father was NFL standout "Iron Head" Heyward) can help at that position.

MARK GOTTFRIED, N.C. State

On the night of Feb. 16, with Duke trailing N.C. State by 20 points midway through the second half, Jim Sumner and I were sitting next to each other on press row wondering if a Blue Devil comeback was possible. I said, "Possible, but not likely." Jim said, "Possible, but I'd feel a lot more confident if Sidney Lowe was still coaching them."

Even though Gottfried couldn't close out the Devils that night, there's no question that he's breathed new life into the Wolfpack program. The Pack is having its best season since the departure of Herb Sendek. This year's Sweet 16 trip is the first for the Pack since 2005 and just the second for the school in 23 years.

It's only going to get better. Gottfried has already recruited three McDonald's All-Americans -- more than anybody else in the ACC this season and more in one season than any coach in Wolfpack history.

He's got this team playing hard and - for the most part - playing smarter than it did under Lowe. Considering that Gottfried has had to deal with a seven-man rotation all year, he's done a marvelous job repairing the damaged program that he inherited.

There's no reason to think that the Pack won't be even better next year. Rodney Purvis is a dynamic guard -- a combo guard that Duke recruited. Tyler Lewis is a quality point guard, who ought to fit in well with incumbent starter Lorenzo Brown, who showed Duke his potential at the point, but also has the ability to play on the wing. T.J. Warren is a combo forward who could be extremely valuable if (as many expect) C.J. Leslie bolts for the NBA.

No matter … Leslie is a great talent, but Gottfried is not going to come up short in the talent department. In addition to his three Big Mac A-As, he's still recruiting hard, trying to bring in some frontcourt depth (although the return of injured 7-footer Jordan Vandenberg will help). If he beats Duke for Amile Jefferson, he'll have FOUR prep All-Americans in the class.

Then there's also Torian Graham, a top 50 wing who has committed to (and de-committed from) the Pack three times in the last year. Graham might not be a great decision-maker, but he's a coveted talent.

Gottfried is proving this month that he knows how to coach talent. His team's strong play in the ACC Tournament and its surprising run to the NCAA Sweet is a testament to his coaching ability.

He's still got a ways to go to close the accomplishment gap with Duke and North Carolina, but he's moving in the right direction - so much so that N.C. State's biggest long-term concern may be keeping Gottfried in Raleigh … he's already showed up in speculation about a potential opening at UCLA (although officially Ben Howland is "safe").

Next season will tell us a lot about the eight short-time ACC coaches. The league is likely to be wide open. North Carolina, Duke and Florida State - this past season's strongest teams - are all facing significant off-season turnover.

That could open the door for the newcomers - Turgeon, Larranaga and Gottfried all seem particularly well situated to take advantage of the window of opportunity.

There might even be a chance for Seth Greenberg to escape the mediocrity that has plagued his program. Virginia Tech was better than its 4-12 ACC record this season and he has an impressive core of young talent returning.

We'll have to wait and see which underclassmen goes pro from the ACC, who transfers out  and who signs in the next couple of months. But as of today, the ACC appears to be in better overall shape than it has been in six or seven years. Most of the league's programs are in good hands and while that may not pay off right away, it will in the long run.

It's just my opinion, but I believe the league has a better lineup of coaches than it has had in years.

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