Kevin Willard and Maryland both achieved a degree of success over the past decade.
Now they're teaming up in the hope that bigger and better things are on the horizon.
Willard is taking over as Maryland's basketball coach after a dozen seasons at Seton Hall. The Terrapins announced the hire Monday, three days after Seton Hall's season ended with a loss to TCU in the NCAA Tournament. Willard took the Pirates to five of the last six NCAA tournaments, although they made the second round only once.
Maryland, meanwhile, has made the second round four times since 2015, but with only one Sweet 16 appearance. The Terrapins were in the market for a new coach after Mark Turgeon’s departure in early December. Assistant Danny Manning took over as interim coach, and the Terps went 15-17 for their first losing season since 1993.
“I have always admired the Maryland basketball program, and being named the new head coach of one of the biggest brands in college basketball is a tremendous honor,” Willard said in a statement. “Thank you to President (Darryll) Pines and (athletic director) Damon Evans for trusting me to re-energize this proud program as we look to galvanize our passionate fan base with a gritty, hard-working style of basketball. Having coached against Maryland several times and at XFINITY Center, I know how Terp fans feel about their team and understand their expectations.”
Those expectations are high. When Willard arrived at Seton Hall, the Pirates had missed the NCAAs four straight years. In that context, he brought the program to a higher level. Maryland, on the other hand, won a national title in 2002 under Gary Williams. That's who Turgeon followed, and the results weren't up to that standard, particularly in the NCAA Tournament.
So Willard moves from the Big East to the Big Ten after seven 20-win seasons with the Pirates.
“Kevin Willard was a proven winner in the Big East while at Seton Hall,” Williams said. “The intensity level of his teams reflect the passion that Kevin will bring to our team and the university.”
Maryland scheduled a news conference for Tuesday night.
“We are thrilled to welcome Kevin to the Terrapin family,” Evans said. “We are excited about the future of Maryland basketball with Kevin leading the way."
Willard won 225 games at Seton Hall, surpassing P.J. Carlesimo earlier this season for second place on the school's career list. The Pirates won the Big East Tournament in 2016 and a regular-season title in 2020. In that respect, Willard endured a similar fate to Turgeon — they arguably had their best teams at Seton Hall and Maryland in 2020, when the NCAA Tournament was called off because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Terps tied for first in the Big Ten that season.
After Seton Hall was eliminated from this year's NCAA Tournament, Willard candidly said if he wasn't back with the Pirates, he'd love for Shaheen Holloway to be there. Holloway, who played at Seton Hall, coached 15th-seeded Saint Peter's into the Sweet 16 this year; the Peacocks face Purdue later this week.
Seton Hall said it would begin a search for Willard's successor.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kevin for 10 of his 12 years here at Seton Hall, and I want to thank him for his phenomenal leadership of our men’s basketball program and for helping our student-athletes become the best possible versions of themselves,” Seton Hall athletic director Bryan Felt said. “Kevin came in and immediately changed the culture of our program and built it into a perennial Big East championship and NCAA Tournament contender with student-athletes who succeed in the classroom and represent the university in a first-class manner."
Before taking over the Seton Hall program, Willard coached Iona for three seasons. His father Ralph coached Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Holy Cross, winning 336 games and going to the NCAA Tournament six times.
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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and http://twitter.com/AP—Top25