Basketball Coaching Legend M.K. Turk Passes Away
M.K. Turk Tribute
Interview with M.K. Turk
HATTIESBURG, Miss. - M.K. Turk, the winningest men's basketball coach in the history of Southern Miss, passed away Friday morning. He was 71. Turk spent 20 seasons as the head basketball coach at The University of Southern Mississippi and finished his career as the all-time winningest coach in school history with 301 Golden Eagle victories, one NIT championship, two NCAA appearances and six NIT appearances.
After a successful stint as athletic director and head basketball coach at Copiah-Lincoln Junior College in Wesson, Miss., and a couple of seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Memphis, Turk took over as coach of the Golden Eagles for the 1976-77 season and immediately began building the program into one of the most competitive in the nation.
"This is truly a sad day for Golden Eagle athletics," said Southern Miss Director of Athletics Bill McGillis. "M.K. Turk was a true icon at The University of Southern Mississippi as he was the individual who helped take Golden Eagle basketball to a level it had never achieved before. He led them into the Metro Conference and established them as one of its top teams year-in and year-out and was the driving force that landed Southern Miss into Conference USA. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Katrina, as well as his two daughters and the hundreds of student-athletes that he coached and taught throughout his career and the tremendous impact that he made on their lives. Many of his former players still come back today and continue to make a positive impact in Southern Miss athletics."
Turk accomplished what no other Southern Miss coach has ever been able to achieve - back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament and winning the National Invitation Tournament.
Turk took the Golden Eagles to eight postseason appearances starting with the 1980-81 season when they made their first ever appearance in the NIT, following a 20-7 season.
After taking the team to the NIT again in 1985-86, Turk and the Golden Eagles captured the 50th championship of the event with an 84-80 win over LaSalle in New York's Madison Square Garden. The championship was a first ever national title for a Mississippi Division I school.
His 1989-90 squad finished 20-12 and finished second in the regular season of the Metro Conference and then received the school's first-ever NCAA bid.
The 1990-91 squad followed with a 21-8 mark, won the Metro Conference regular season championship and again earned a berth to the NCAA regionals. That team graced the Associated Press Top 25 pre-season poll and went to the NCAA Tournament ranked as one of the nation's top 25.
After Turk led the Golden Eagles to the top of the independent ranks, he then guided their entry into the Metro Conference in 1982, lending further stature to the program. Then in 1995-96, Turk guided the Golden Eagles into Conference USA as a charter member.
"I watched Coach Turk from afar as a college player and then as a young coach," said current Southern Miss basketball coach Donnie Tyndall. "So when I took the job at Southern Miss and had the chance to meet and talk with him, to be perfectly honest, I was in awe of him and could hardly talk because he was such a legend. What amazed me was how willing he was to take time to talk with me and give helpful pointers and directions to me about Southern Miss.
"Then, when I had the chance to see him around his wife and daughters, it all made sense. This was a man that was one of the best coaches in all of college basketball and yet he was an even better person, husband and father. Coach Turk is by far and away the best basketball coach to have ever graced Southern Miss and always will be. But more than that, he was an amazing friend and person to all he touched."
Many players from Turk's program have gone on to successful careers in both professional basketball and business. Former Golden Eagle Clarence Weatherspoon was the 9th pick in the 1992 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. Teammate Joe Courtney had stints with several NBA clubs and Randolph Keys was a former number one pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. A number of other former players are currently playing in both the CBA and overseas. He has also turned out several assistant coaches and players who are currently continuing their careers coaching at both the high school and collegiate levels.
"There will never be another M.K. Turk and his contributions to Southern Miss and his accomplishments while at Southern Miss will never be forgotten," said John Cox, the long-time Voice of the Golden Eagles. "I had the good fortune as a young announcer to work hand-and-hand with him during the early days of his career with the Golden Eagles and was lucky enough to be on the ride that took us to New York and the NIT Championship, a Metro Championship, the NCAA Tournament and more exciting victories that you can remember. I learned a lot from him about so many different things and owe him a lot. I will miss him as a great friend and a Southern Miss legend."
Among the many honors Turk has received are being named the 1986-87 NIT Coach of the Year and the 1985-86 Metro Conference Coach of the Year. He also was a member of the Southern Miss Legends Club, the Southern Miss M-Club Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Turk also served as an assistant athletic director under Athletic Director Bill McLellan during his final few years with the Golden Eagles.
Turk was a graduate of Copiah-Lincoln Junior College and a 1964 graduate of Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Southern Miss Athletic Foundation at (601) 266-5299 to establish a scholarship in Coach Turk's honor. The funeral arrangements are currently pending and will be sent out at a later time.
Service ArrangmentsMonday, Dec. 9
Visitation from 4-7 p.m., at Parkway Heights Methodist Church (2420 Hardy St., Hattiesburg)
Tuesday, Dec. 10
Memorial Service at 10 a.m., at Parkway Heights Methodist Church
The family of Coach Turk has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Athletic Foundation for a scholarship in his name. All of us are in contact with friends of the University on a daily basis, so if anyone asks you can refer them to the Southern Miss Athletic Foundation or let them know that gifts may be mailed to:
Southern Miss Athletic Foundation
Attn: M.K. Turk Scholarship Endowment
P.O. Box 15458
Hattiesburg, MS 39404
All checks should be made payable to the Southern Miss Athletic Foundation.
ReflectionsDr. Rodney Bennett, Southern Miss President
"Today, The University of Southern Mississippi mourns the loss of a great Golden Eagle, M.K. Turk. Coach Turk took Southern Miss men's basketball to new heights, and his legacy will live forever in the record books as well as the fond memories of Golden Eagle fans. Coach Turk invested in the lives of many student-athletes over the course of his great career, and their contributions to the communities in which they live continue to be a testament to his significant positive influence."
John Brady, Arkansas State Head Basketball Coach
"Growing up in McComb, Mississippi, you couldn't help but follow Southern Miss basketball. Even before that, I remember M.K. Turk coaching at Co-Lin Junior College. He was one of the finest basketball coaches and one of the most gracious gentlemen of any coach that I've ever known. There have been several Mississippi legends that have done good things for the state in terms of athletics, and he is certainly one of them in basketball. He made an impact on no telling how many young people. When I was an assistant at Mississippi State, M.K. had eight or ten great runs at Southern Miss with some really, really good players. And did it mostly with Mississippi guys. He will be missed, not only by the USM family, but certainly coaches throughout Mississippi and the country. He has always been respected for the way he conducted himself and the way he coached his teams. M.K. was one of those guys who you never thought about not being around. M.K. Turk's name, in the state of Mississippi in particular, is synonymous with quality basketball. I will be praying for his family, and he certainly will be missed by many of us that had the privilege to know him."
John Calipari, Kentucky Head Basketball Coach
"Sad to hear about the passing of M.K. Turk. He was one of my coaching buddies. I loved being able to go down to Southern Miss to spend time with him, talking basketball. Coach Turk was truly one of the great coaches to build a program and he was one of the first coaches that did more with less. I'm not talking about talent because he recruited as well as anybody. He recruited without the advantages of the other schools in his region and never complained. He just went out and won."
Perry Clark, former Tulane Head Basketball Coach
"M.K. was a classy, classy gentleman. As a young coach, I learned from him how you can be competitive, and yet, maintain dignity, class and character. I've never heard him say a bad word about anybody or not extend a kind hand to anyone. Even though we competed both on and off the court, I always looked at him as a personal friend."
Rick Cleveland, Executive Director of the Mississippi Hall of Fame and Museum
"What M.K. Turk achieved at USM never ceases to amaze me. He took a program dead in the water and created a monster. He recruited small-town Mississippi players, overlooked by most, and won big. He packed Green Coliseum and he made basketball fun at Southern Miss. More than all that, he was a good friend. My thoughts are with Katrina and his daughters."
Denny Crum, former Louisville Head Basketball Coach
"I suppose any profession has its good and bad guys, but you'd have to put M.K. at the top of the good guy list. He was just a gem of a person and a very good coach as well. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the entire Southern Mississippi community."
Larry Eustachy, Colorado State Head Basketball Coach and former Southern Miss Coach
"No coach did more with less in the history of college basketball when he started at Southern Miss. He was always extremely kind and helpful to me, which I will never forget."
Tim Floyd, UTEP Head Basketball Coach and son of former Southern Miss coach Lee Floyd
"I am saddened by the passing of M.K. Turk. The success of his teams, his love for the community, the exciting brand of basketball his teams played, and the class with which he represented the university will forever be how basketball coaches at Southern Miss are measured. I will always appreciate the time he spent mentoring me and the invaluable lessons I learned as a young coach."
James Green, Jacksonville State Head Basketball Coach and former Southern Miss Basketball Coach
"Coach M. K. Turk was a great coach and one that displayed class that was recognized by all in the coaching profession nationwide. There is no coach or player that has given more to Southern Miss basketball or demonstrated more love for the program. I was more than honored and very humbled to be given the opportunity to follow him as a coach at Southern Miss and to try and carry on the success he enjoyed there. I attended his camp and from then on he became a role model and a personal friend throughout the years. He touched many, many lives. We have lost a great Golden Eagle. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Pete Gillen, Former Virginia Head Coach and current television analyst
"M.K. Turk was a tremendous basketball coach, but an even better person. He loved the game. He loved working with young people and he was a great competitor. College basketball will really miss this tremendous ambassador for the game."
Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss Head Basketball Coach
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Turk's family. He was an outstanding coach, who lead with integrity and honor. His contributions to the sport of basketball in our state will never be forgotten."
Aubrey Lucas, Former Southern Miss President
"M.K. Turk was not only a talented coach who made history at USM, but he also was a great ambassador for the university throughout the country. We will always remember the accomplishments and contributions that he made to Southern Miss and the exciting and thrilling moments his teams provided us on the basketball court. Southern Miss has lost one of our finest coaches and leaders and we shall always remember him for all he did to give this university even greater visibility throughout the nation. He was a great person and a great leader at Southern Miss."
Charles Moyer, Former Virginia Tech Head Basketball Coach
"I was at Virginia Tech when Southern Mississippi joined the Metro Conference. I had known M.K. for a while and was really happy that they joined the conference. He did a great job of coaching. He was a tremendous competitor, a good coach but a better man. We stayed in touch since we both left coaching and I thought a whole lot of M.K. and his family."
Ed Murphy, Former Ole Miss Head Basketball Coach
"We were roommates in college together, and I didn't have a better friend. We kept in touch through the years. Our families would take vacations together. I always thought he was going to be there, and now he is not going to be. It's pretty hard to face. He was a great basketball coach. He was a terrific coach at Southern Miss. He's a Mississippi Hall of Famer. He's was an honorable guy and just a good person."
C.M. Newton, former Alabama Head Basketball Coach and Kentucky Athletic Director
"I have always thought of him as not only great coach, but also as a great person. I also think of him as the father of Southern Miss basketball. He was a guy who really got that program going in the right direction with little resources and lots of hard work when he was the basketball coach there. He was a great coach and a great person. His teams were always some of the best coached and best prepared you would ever see."
Bobby Paschal, Former Southwestern Louisiana and USF Head Basketball Coach
"Just hearing the news made me heartbroken. Coach Turk and I competed against each other in many games. He not only was one of the best coaches that I ever coached against, but he and I had become very good friends. He was one of the closest friends that I met through coaching. We had a lot of fun competing against each other. But we also spent a lot of time away from basketball, away from the court and had a lot of fun times together. He was just an unbelievable man."
Alton Ricks, Former Co-Lin Head Coach
"I recruited M.K. Turk out of Kentucky in the late 1950's as a basketball player. He was not only an excellent basketball player, but he was a better person. I maintained close contact with M.K. and his family over many years. I have a great deal of respect for him and what he did in his community, as well as athletics."
Wimp Sanderson, Former Alabama Head Basketball Coach
"I am truly sorry to hear about the passing of M.K Turk. He was certainly an excellent person and an excellent basketball coach. He brought the Southern Miss program a long way and did a great job for their program throughout the years. I made a lot of friends during my time as a coach and I am proud to say he was one of them."
University of Memphis Official Statement
"On behalf of the University of Memphis, its athletics department, and Tiger fans throughout the Mid-South, we're all saddened by the loss of Tiger coach M.K. Turk. M.K. came to Memphis in the 1970's as an assistant to former Head Coach Wayne Yates and served for several years on Yates' staff. M.K. endeared himself with his floor-coaching abilities and his recruiting abilities to all Tiger fans, and he was held in high regard by the Memphis athletic family. M.K. became a close friend to all the coaches on the staff, and that relationship carried over to his days as the head coach at Southern Miss. Speaking for all the Tiger family, M.K. will be sorely missed, and we wish his family, which includes the Southern Miss Golden Eagle family, our condolences at this time."
Sonny Smith, Former Auburn Head Basketball Coach
"We've lost a great Coach, but we also lost a better man. He was a friend to all of the coaches, and when you've found a friend to all of the coaches, you've found a keeper and M.K. was a keeper."
Richard Williams, Former Mississippi State Head Basketball Coach
"Coach Turk was the coach of Co-Lin Junior College when I was the coach at South Natchez high school. He, of course, recruited some of my players and was always accessible to all of the high school coaches in the area. We were friends who ended up coaching against each other when he was at Southern Miss and I was at Mississippi State. He was a really good basketball coach and an even better man. I don't know of anyone who has had anything bad to say about M.K. Turk. He was one of the nicest men and one of the most accessible guys you've ever been around. Everybody liked M.K."
"M.K. took over a program that, a few years before, didn't win a game. He took the program and turned it into a very successful program, competing for Metro Conference Championships with teams like Louisville and Cincinnati. I think M.K. is one of those coaches that will be much more appreciated now than he ever was when he was coaching. Most people forget how the program was when he took it over and what he did to turn it around. It's not an easy thing in this state. But, he did it, and was one of the best at it."