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New Maryland hoops coach needs patience

Basketball hoop
Basketball hoop

No less a sports expert than Barry Manilow once observed that a fool will lose tomorrow reaching back for yesterday.

That thought occurred as the University of Maryland introduced a new men’s basketball coach, Kevin Willard, to a gathered throng in College Park a couple of weeks ago. Willard, who comes to Terp Nation after three seasons at Iona and 12 years at Seton Hall, appears to meet all the requirements to take over a program in the condition that Maryland finds itself in.

That would be a place where Mark Turgeon, the coach who began the 2021-22 season, jumped ship a third of the way through the year, leaving it in the hands of Danny Manning, who guided the shellshocked roster to the first losing season in 29 years.

Willard won 58 percent of his games at Seton Hall, reached the NCAA tournament five times and was named the Big East Conference Coach of the Year in 2016.

But many Maryland fans have already seized on Willard’s apparent limitations, namely the fact that his Seton Hall teams only reached the second round of the NCAA tournament once and never got to the Sweet 16.

In some respects, these fans so fondly remember Maryland’s past, the time 20 years ago when Turgeon’s predecessor, Gary Williams, guided the Terps to a national championship, that they’re hardly giving Willard a chance to shape the future.

The fans conveniently forget that the Maryland program had been damaged by NCAA-imposed sanctions and the Terps didn’t get to the NCAA tournament for the first time under Williams until his fifth season.

Maryland did get to the tournament 13 times in Williams’ 22 seasons, but only reached the Sweet 16 seven times. The Terps got to the Final Four twice and won one title. In other words, it took time for Gary Williams to become Gary Williams. Kevin Willard inherits a program in better shape than what Williams got, to be sure, but nowhere near as glamorous as many Maryland fans imagine. Willard will need time and for people to keep their expectations and memories in check.

The timing of the 20th anniversary of the Maryland championship coincides with the debut of Sports at Large.

Over the succeeding two decades, on close to 1,000 Mondays, we’ve taken note of how the sports world turns, hopefully, in an interesting and thought-provoking way.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank the many people who have made this possible, starting with Marc Steiner and Andy Bienstock, who greenlit this idea back in the spring of 2002.

I’m also grateful for the support of WYPR’s president and general manager LaFontaine Oliver and his predecessor Anthony Brandon.

This show would not be possible without the wonderfully talented producers who have guided, cajoled and mentored me. From Lisa Morgan to Kate LaVail to Mary Rose Madden to Mark Gunnery to Spencer Bryant, I have been blessed to work with the best collaborators and friends one could ask for.

Last, but most importantly, I thank each of you for your compliments, your criticisms and your acceptance. Hopefully, we’ll continue to travel down the road and back again and with this promise: No more Barry Manilow.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening for all these years. Continue enjoying the games.