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Aggies fans lukewarm on Turgeon

Aggies fans lukewarm on Turgeon

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Just days after a painful breakup with beloved men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie, many of the Aggie faithful seemed hesitant Monday to rebound into a new relationship quite so quick.

Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon emerged late Sunday as a leading candidate to replace Gillispie. By Monday, he had flown to College Station to meet with athletic department officials.

But as Texas A&M inched closer to the hiring of a new head coach, many Aggie fans remained vexed by Gillispie's quick departure from Aggieland. That means Turgeon - who will be named as the Aggies new coach Tuesday - may have to prove himself to the 12th Man before they are willing to lay out the welcome mat.

"I think he's under a lot of pressure to live up to the standards that Gillispie placed here," Texas A&M senior Collin Veitenheimer said Monday while standing working at Aggieland Outfitters on George Bush Drive. "I don't think a lot of people are going to welcome him with open arms for a while."

Reaction was mixed Monday as Turgeon's name slowly spread across Bryan and College Station. Some Aggies expressed excitement about the man who led the Shockers to the Sweet 16 in 2006. Others seemed surprised Texas A&M would go after a coach who wasn't exactly a household name.

The majority of Aggies who spoke with The Eagle on Monday said they knew little of Turgeon and his career. And nearly everyone seemed somewhat hesitant to jump on the Turgeon bandwagon. After all, how often do rebound relationships work out?

Both A&M and Wichita State athletic department officials declined to comment Monday. But Byrne did shuttle Turgeon and his wife, Ann, from Easterwood Airport to Reed Arena. Inside, ribbon boards displayed a friendly message: "Welcome to Aggieland Mark and Ann Turgeon."

Across the street, the message wasn't quite as welcoming. Troy Bretz and Brett Simpson stopped to talk with a reporter as they walked to the Rec Center. The duo hadn't heard Turgeon was in contention for the A&M job. In fact, they said, they hadn't heard of him at all.

Their faces turned sullen as they looked over a sheet detailing the coach's career highlights.

"It doesn't look too impressive." Simpson said. "That's kind of disappointing."

Some Aggies were more optimistic.

A&M seniors Megan Hinshaw and Dyer Hill chatted about the new coach while standing in the hallway of the Memorial Student Center promoting Maroon Out for the Texas A&M Class Council.

Hinshaw said she didn't know much about Turgeon, but she wasn't worried. She has faith in A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, who she said has proven himself with past hires. She pointed to track and field coach Pat Henry, who was lured to A&M after winning 27 NCAA championships at Louisiana State.

"The only thing constant around here is change," Hill said, referring to former A&M President Robert Gates and outgoing Executive Vice President and Provost David Prior. "We might as well embrace it."

Junior Dustin Henry walked by as the pair was asking questions about the coach and volunteered the potential newcomer's name.

Henry said he had been following the news all day and was excited about Turgeon's coaching experience, which includes a stint in the NBA. The 20-year-old said he also heard Turgeon was a good recruiter in Texas, which also could pay dividends. Henry was sad to see Gillispie go, but pleasantly surprised a potential replacement could be found so soon.

"I thought [Gillispie] would stay ... but Kentucky is an opportunity of a lifetime and I don't blame him for anything. I just don't like the way he did it," Henry said, stressing his faith in Byrne and the basketball program as a whole. "I don't think [the team's performance] will drop off at all. The players we have are the ones that won the games."

Junior Blake Coleman, vice president of the Reed Rowdies basketball booster group, agreed. Coleman said he first found out Turgeon was a candidate while watching ESPN late Sunday. He immediately thought it would be a good hire, Coleman said.

Though he would like to know more about Wichita State and its competition, Coleman said there was no denying the program's improvements during Turgeon's tenure. In addition to three consecutive 20-win seasons, Turgeon's players beat LSU in Baton Rouge, La. - an achievement Gillispie can't boast of, he said.

"We're all a little bummed out about Gillispie, but it's really turned into an exciting time and it looks like it's going to be a really exciting era at A&M," Coleman said, noting that the Reed Rowdies were eager to take part in whatever welcome celebration might be planned for the new coach.

"It's all speculation and rumor right now," he said. "We're just waiting for the final word."

• Holly Huffman's e-mail address is holly.huffman@theeagle.com.

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