Kevin Willard helped transform the Seton Hall men’s basketball program during his 12 years at the helm, but that came to an end on Monday morning. Willard resigned as head coach and was hired to take over the vacant position at the University of Maryland.
The news ends a run that saw Willard lead the Seton Hall Pirates to the NCAA Tournament five times and to seven 20-win seasons. Willard, 46, helped the program win its first Big East title in 23 years in 2016 and they won their first NCAA Tournament game in 18 seasons in 2018.
“Seton Hall will always be a special place for my family and me,” Willard said in a statement released by Seton Hall. “For 12 years, this was home, and I’m proud of everything that we accomplished. We were able to build not only a great program, but we were also able to build a second family with my players, staff and the entire University community. Together, we made Seton Hall men’s basketball a program we can all be proud to support.”
Monday’s news came as no surprise to anyone who has followed college basketball. Willard had been one of the names that had been talked about to replace long-time Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who resigned in December.
Iona head coach Rick Pitino had been linked to the coaching vacancy as well, but Pitino appeared to rebuff the interest in him in a Tweet earlier this month.
Willard seemed to fan the flames even more about the Maryland gig after his Pirates fell to TCU in the NCAA tournament and he appeared to endorse Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway to take his place next season.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Willard said at the time. “If I’m not here next year, I’d love, if Shaheen Holloway is here, that would be the happiest thing to happen to me.”
Seton Hall said it would begin its search immediately and would not comment until a new coach is hired, but Holloway is the odds end favorite to take over the program. Holloway is currently in the middle of a run to the Sweet 16 with Saint Peter’s, which defeated Kentucky and Murray State over their surprising run so far.
Holloway was a star point guard at Seton Hall during his playing days and served as an assistant for eight years on Willard’s staff when he first started coaching in South Orange. The Pirates will have to wait to hire him if that is the case since his Saint Peter’s Peacocks still have at least one more tournament game to play on Friday against Purdue.
Willard’s mark on Seton Hall will be one that will be hard to top. He exits as the second-winningest coach in program history behind only Naismith Hall of Famer Honey Russell.