COLLEGE PARK — Danny Manning has been warned, but not by much. He found he would be taking over Maryland’s men’s basketball program the same day as everyone else, and from there he began the rare and chaotic task of guiding a team through an early coaching change. season. The Terrapins had only played eight games when Mark Turgeon left the position he had held for the previous 10 seasons. Manning therefore initially felt shocked and worried for his close friend and former teammate, who had made a drastic decision in his life.
And then his thoughts returned to the team, which still had two dozen games to play, including the entire Big Ten roster. In an instant, Manning said he had “gone from one of the cool assistant coaches to a dude that’s going to challenge everybody every day.” This adjustment takes some time.
The Terps had training scheduled that day, and Manning only had the plan left for Turgeon. The time spent on the court has turned into an opportunity for everyone to release energy and emotion. It was a difficult day. The next practice showed progress. But that’s the extent of this group’s preparation ahead of their conference opening, which kicked off 47 hours after the players heard the news. Manning, who had never coached in the Big Ten, was not the assistant in charge of the North West scouting report, so he needed to catch up quickly.
“I coached the North West game as an interim,” Manning said last week. “And I didn’t like coaching with that acting mindset.”
So he changed his perspective, now leading as if he were the head coach – with no other words attached to the title. The Terps knocked out then-ranked No. 20 Florida in New York before a 15-day hiatus. After a pair of non-conference games against Loyola (Maryland) and Brown, Maryland still has 19 Big Ten matchups. This season is not lost, although it feels like the program is in limbo, waiting for a new era to begin.
As a first-time assistant at Kansas, Manning prepared scouting reports as if coach Bill Self would be kicked out and he should take the reins. He didn’t expect this to happen, but he wanted to feel ready. When he returned to an assistant position at Maryland, he had eight years of head coaching experience to bolster that planning. Manning, 55, has spent years in this world – as a player in Kansas and the NBA, then nearly two decades on the college staff – and he acknowledges it is an “unpredictable business”. .
But under what circumstances do these Terps sail? “It’s not in the coaching manual,” he said, noting that his dressing room had experienced “a tornado whirlwind of emotions.”
However, it is still a team with potential and talented elements that did not integrate perfectly at the start of the season. They’re still players looking for that feeling of victory as they aim for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, which seemed like a sure thing before the season. And they have a coach who wants that job on a permanent basis, if he gets the chance.
“At the end of the day, I want us to do pretty well where my name is in consideration,” Manning said. “Without question.”
Manning, the No. 1 pick in the 1988 NBA draft, felt drawn to a coaching career because his father, Ed, had coached in college and in the NBA. Manning suffered three major knee injuries during his NBA career, so he studied the game closely, hoping the anticipation would make up for the lost quickness. As his role on the pitch diminished, he helped guide his teammates, and it eventually turned into his full-time job.
Tulsa gave Manning his first head coaching job, and he jumped to Wake Forest two years later. Manning’s Demon Deacons teams compiled a 78-111 record, and the school fired him after six seasons. Manning knew he wanted to be a head coach again, but said it had to be “the right situation”. He needed a break because “you don’t realize the amount of time, energy, stress you’ve put into it when you’re there,” he said, so he worked for ESPN in as an analyst last season. Yet he still found himself preparing for games like he was a head coach.
“You’re able to take a step back and breathe deeply, kind of recharging your batteries,” Manning said. “The love, the passion for the game never left.”
When he felt ready to return to practice, he landed with Turgeon, his former teammate at Kansas. They met when Manning was a senior in high school and his father was working as an assistant for the Jayhawks. Manning was visiting campus to train and see his father, and Turgeon was a freshman at the time. They were teammates for three years and have maintained their friendship for nearly four decades.
Manning jokes that he’s a Jacksonville State booster because Turgeon, who started his head coaching career there, needed donations for a new locker room, and Manning helped. He admits his interest in the Maryland assistant position stemmed primarily from his relationship with Turgeon.
And Manning does not plan to stop talking with Turgeon. But it’s his team now, and he’s tasked with turning the chaos into a respectable campaign.
The Terps have added six transfers this offseason, and Manning, along with assistant Bruce Shingler, are new to the team and the conference. Manning met with the players’ parents shortly after he became caretaker coach, and he mentioned the importance of ensuring his team is in good mental shape amid the turmoil.
Even in this unusual situation, Manning said he probably slept more now than when he was in Tulsa and Wake Forest. With that experience comes perspective. He knows how to balance the urgency to improve with the understanding that change doesn’t always happen quickly.
Manning has instructed his players to adhere to what he calls Energy Generating Behaviors – or EGBs. Inside each player’s locker is a laminated sheet with 20 actions that fall into this category. Some are predictable: interceptions, deflections and rebounds. Others are less obvious: huddles, daps, encouragement from the bench or a call from a teammate to be better. The list keeps growing and Manning has recently added assists, particularly to give center Qudus Wahab a chance to earn some when he frees up space for a teammate to make a lay-up. The list focuses on efforts and actions that are under a player’s control.
During competition drills in training, staff count EGBs instead of points. Before the matches, “we will put a paper [copy of the list] on the board, and everyone has to look at it and put their initials on it,” Manning said. “We just want them to know that’s what we’re looking for.”
Managers and graduate assistants follow the tally and the team tries to earn 300 in every game. It started against Florida and the Terps finished with 288 – not the goal but enough to win a close game. So in the locker room, after the players doused Manning with water, they huddled together and started chanting, “EGBs! EGB!
For the first time since the departure of Turgeon disrupted their season, the players were able to enjoy a victory. And Manning, with a long season still ahead of him, saw proof in the exuberant dressing room that his message had resonated with his team.