This time a year ago, Danny Manning didn’t have a job on a college basketball staff for the first time in nearly two decades. After six seasons as the head coach at Wake Forest, the school fired Manning, and the former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick took a step back. His life became less hectic while he worked as an analyst for ESPN during last season. He said he’d travel to Bristol, Conn., then “make sure my makeup was right, get on the camera and smile and talk basketball.”
Talking basketball was easy for Manning, but he missed teaching players the game and the camaraderie inside a locker room. He said before this season that he reached out to Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon about an opening on the Terrapins’ staff. Manning and Turgeon played together at Kansas and have been friends ever since. They ran into each other at last season’s Final Four in Indianapolis and talked about Maryland. Manning liked the direction the program was heading under Turgeon, so he and his wife moved to Maryland to begin this new role as an assistant coach for the first time since 2012.
“I’m very comfortable with the leadership of Coach Turge and how he does things, how he carries himself, how he moves in the community,” Manning said after he was hired in April. “That’s something that’s very important to me.”
That job under Turgeon lasted less than eight months. Now Manning is in charge of the program as an interim coach after Turgeon and the school parted ways Friday. Manning has led teams before – Tulsa from 2012 to 2014 and Wake Forest from 2014 to 2020 – and now he’s been thrust back into that position, taking over for his former teammate who was in his 11th season at the helm in College Park.
Turgeon’s departure was abrupt and shocking to the players and staff who are just eight games into the season. The decision started to materialize after the Terps’ loss Wednesday night, and Friday afternoon, the school announced the coaching change. Hours after the players heard the news, they practiced for the first time as a Manning-led team. There’s little time to grapple with the adjustment, with Maryland beginning conference play against Northwestern on Sunday.
“Our staff remains focused on making sure we are there to support our players in every facet,” Manning said in a statement. “I ask the entire Maryland community to rally around our players and all our families and be there to support them throughout the rest of the season.”
Maryland (5-3) started the season in the top 25 but dropped out of the rankings after suffering a home loss against George Mason, one of the program’s worst defeats in years based on opponents’ ratings in Ken Pomeroy’s analytics-based system.
Two additional losses, against Louisville and Virginia Tech, highlighted some of this team’s deficiencies. In both games, Maryland couldn’t hold onto a lead in the second half. Against the Hokies, the Terps shot 1 for 13 from three-point range (7.7%), which was the program’s worst mark in a game since 2016. Through eight games, Maryland is shooting 26.8% from deep, a clip that lands inside the bottom 20 among 350 Division I teams. Maryland has already fallen out of many NCAA tournament projections.
After last season, the Terps lost two of their best players in Aaron Wiggins, now with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Darryl Morsell, who transferred to Marquette and is excelling there. Turgeon still hoped this year’s squad with an influx of transfers could muster a strong season, but instead the early trouble led to Turgeon’s midseason exit.
Manning takes over a struggling team of players he’s known for less than a year. When Turgeon hired Manning, he mentioned how assistants with head coaching experience helped a staff. (Matt Brady, in his fourth season as a Maryland assistant, has also held the top job at Marist and James Madison.) Now Manning will return to that role. With teams that played fast and struggled defensively, Manning finished his tenure with a 78-111 record at Wake Forest and a 38-29 mark at Tulsa. Manning’s teams at Wake Forest had a winning record only once, in 2016-17, the same season the Demon Deacons reached the NCAA tournament and lost in the play-in round.
“Biggest lessons that I learned as a head coach, and there are a lot, but one of the biggest things is making sure, day in and day out, that you pour yourself into your team,” Manning said in October. “Because there are so many different things that pull you apart, whether it’s recruiting, whether it’s alumni functions, whether it’s media. And so just making sure that you still get that quality touch with each individual every day.”
Manning will coach his first game as Maryland’s coach roughly 48 hours after his players heard that the coach who brought them to College Park would no longer be in charge. How this group might respond to the sudden change, and to Manning’s leadership, will start to become clear in Sunday’s game. They could rebound, as teams with interim coaches sometimes do, buoyed by a nothing-to-lose mentality. Or the rest of the season could turn into a dreary trudge through three months of games while the program waits for a new era to begin.
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