The worst-kept secret in college basketball is about to become official: Kevin Willard is Seton Hall for Maryland leaving.
Rumors heated up late last week of this possibility, and after Willard didn’t just deny them after the Pirates’ ugly loss in the NCAA Tournament to TCU, but campaigned for Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway to be his replacement, it became obvious his days in South Orange, NJ were coming to an end.
Willard is reportedly making $22 million over five years, which is a major raise. According to a source, his base salary at Seton Hall this past season was $2.4 million.
“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.”
The 46-year-old coach leaves after rebuilding the program that had fallen onto hard times prior to his arrival 12 years ago. Willard guided Seton Hall to five NCAA Tournament trips in the last six opportunities, and six 20-win seasons in the last seven years. Holloway, Willard’s assistant for eight seasons at Seton Hall, is expected to replace him, once Saint Peter’s magical run in the NCAA Tournament comes to a close.
Willard met with Maryland higher-ups on Sunday afternoon to hammer out the final details of the contract. Three years ago, he nearly left Seton Hall for Virginia Tech. But when the Big Ten job opened up, and the school zeroed in on Willard, he decided the time was right to move on. He broke the news to the team Monday morning.
The Long Island native, who worked under Rick Pitino at Louisville, came to Seton Hall in 2010 after three years as the Iona College coach. His first five years were rough with just one NIT berth. But it all turned with a blockbuster recruiting class led by five-star Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead helped the Pirates win the 2016 Big East Tournament title, the school’s first in 23 years, and that class won Seton Hall’s first NCAA Tournament game in 18 seasons in 2018.
Willard’s one shortcoming came in March, in the form of a 1-5 tournament record. His best team, the 2020 tri-Big East regular-season champions, never got a chance in the dance when it was canceled due to COVID-19. Frequent January slides always lowered his teams’ ceilings. But he made Seton Hall nationally relevant with challenging non-conference schedules and by creating a culture of grit, determination and hard work. His players improved. He developed unheralded recruits like Myles Powell, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jared Rhoden into All-Big East first team selections.
He made Seton Hall matter again.