The University of Maryland has announced Monday that Kevin Willard will be its next men’s basketball coach.
Willard, 46, who coached at Seton Hall for 12 seasons, will replace former coach Mark Turgeon, who stepped down in December after going 226-116 and making one Sweet 16 appearance in 10-plus seasons. Assistant Danny Manning served as interim coach as the Terps finished 15-17, the program’s first losing season since 1993.
Maryland signed Willard to a seven-year, $29.4 million contract, the team’s spokesperson said. He will make $3.9 million next season with a $100,000 escalator each year. The school will hold an introductory news conference for Willard that will be open to the general public Tuesday evening.
“We are thrilled to welcome Kevin to the Terrapin family,” said Athletic Director Damon Evans in a release. “We are excited about the future of Maryland basketball with Kevin leading the way. Known for his gritty, hard-working teams, Kevin has had tremendous success, winning conference championships and leading his teams to NCAA Tournaments.”
Since becoming Seton Hall’s coach in 2010, Willard has compiled a 225-160 record, winning 20 or more games in seven seasons while finishing in the top five of the Big East Conference standings seven consecutive years. In 2016, the Pirates won the Big East title and Willard was named Big East Coach of the Year. They won a share of the Big East regular-season title in 2020.
That success has not translated to the postseason, however. Seton Hall (21-11, 11-8 Big East), a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, suffered a 69-42 loss to No. 9 seed TCU in the first round Friday night, dropping Willard’s record to 1-5 in the tournament. The Pirates were ranked as high as No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll this season and beat then-No. 4 Michigan and then-No. 7 Texas. The Pirates’ 9-1 start to the season was their best since 2017-18.
“On behalf of the entire University of Maryland community, it is my honor to welcome Coach Kevin Willard and his family to College Park,” said Maryland president Darryll J. Pines. “As a leader, coach, mentor, and teacher, Coach Willard is a tremendous choice to lead our men’s basketball program into its next era of distinction.”
Willard, who has a 270-209 career record, worked under coach Rick Pitino for 10 years, serving as an assistant with the Boston Celtics (1997-2001) and Louisville (2001-07) before being hired by Iona in 2007.
“I think Kev’s become one of the premier young coaches in the game,” Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach who has led five programs to the NCAA Tournament, told NJ Advance Media in February. “I think Seton Hall, I wouldn’t say it’s a difficult job, but he’s done a fabulous job. He has played a very tough schedule every year, he’s not afraid to play anyone and he’s one of the premier young coaches in our game.”
After taking over an Iona program that finished 0-22 in 2006, Willard compiled a 45-49 record in three seasons. His only winning season was in 2009-10, when the Gaels went 21-10 and Willard was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. Iona finished third in the MAAC that season but lost to Niagara in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Willard, a Huntington, New York, native and University of Pittsburgh graduate, was hired by Seton Hall a month later, becoming the youngest coach in program history at age 34. Willard’s father, Ralph, was a former coach at Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Holy Cross.
“Growing up and coaching in the region, I have always admired Maryland basketball. Being named head coach of one of the nation’s premier basketball programs is a tremendous honor,” said Willard. “Thank you to President Pines and Damon Evans for trusting me to energize this proud program as we look to galvanize our passionate fanbase with a gritty, hard-working style of basketball.”
When longtime Maryland booster Barry DesRoches, 63, saw Willard’s name being circled around for the Maryland job, he made it a point to watch Seton Hall games.
“It’s been a hard three and a half months,” he said. “You don’t have a coach. There’s all sorts of news out there. Kevin really is the type of guy that would step up to the challenge. If things aren’t going his way, he’s going work harder.”
For some Maryland students, alumni and fans, the hire missed the mark. Sarah D’Orsie, a 41-year-old Terps fan from Pennsylvania, thought the program would swing big and aim for star coaches like Alabama’s Nate Oats or Iona’s Rick Pitino.
“I think this is the safe choice,” she said, “and I think [Willard] is on par with Mark Turgeon. And we want to get to the next level and not stay where we are.”
Maryland student Steven Mehling, 21, called it a “safe hire.”
“[Evans] hired the same type of guy that has been coaching the Maryland men’s basketball team for about a decade now,” he said. “I don’t see the program advancing unless he’s able to really recruit some local talent.”
After Willard went 13-18 in his first season, he led the Pirates to a 21-13 record in 2011-12, earning a trip to the National Invitation Tournament. Seton Hall was ranked as high as No. 24, marking the first time the program climbed into the AP Top 25 since 2001.
In 2016, Willard made his first NCAA Tournament appearance after leading Seton Hall to a Big East title and being named the conference’s co-Coach of the Year. Willard would go on to make five tournament appearances in seven years.
“Kevin has done a great job wherever he’s been — Iona, Seton Hall,” said former Duke player and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “He’s an East Coast guy that has been with Rick Pitino. His basketball background is impeccable, and he’s a really good guy. He’ll get what Maryland’s about and I think do a really good job there.”
Bilas believes Willard is the right guy to handle the fan’s high expectations.
“The truth is, nobody knows exactly how it’s going to turn out,” Bilas said. “Kevin is really good, I mean really good, and a really good guy. He’s got a great way about him, demanding but with a wonderful demeanor about him. I think there’s always a period where you have to build that trust with the fanbase. That’s something Kevin is going to have to tackle, and I think he will.”
During Friday’s loss to TCU, Seton Hall was held to 21 points in the first half while shooting 28.8% from the field, as the Horned Frogs cruised to their first NCAA Tournament victory in 35 years. The 42 points marked the fewest scored by the Pirates in an NCAA Tournament game in program history.
“The postseason is not easy,” Evans said when outlining what he’s looking for in a head coach. “There are a lot of really good coaches out there that have made the postseason and may only have one win. But you got to take a look at where they are, you got to take a look at their recruiting ranks. When you go to a place like Maryland with the resources that we have available, with the fertile recruiting ground that we have available, some of those coaches might have a better record in the tournament just because of that.”
Willard won both matchups against Maryland during his tenure at Seton Hall. In 2019, the Pirates held the Terps to 26.9% shooting in a 52-48 victory, and they defeated Maryland, 78-74, in 2018.
Similar to Turgeon, Willard is a defensive-minded coach, as the Pirates have ranked in the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency in two of the past three years, according to KenPom. The Pirates ranked 27th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency this season and second in the Big East in opponent field goal percentage (.388).
During Willard’s tenure at Seton Hall, he has recruited and developed talented players like Isaiah Whitehead, the 2016 Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and the 42nd overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft; Powell, the 2020 Big East Player of the Year and the school’s first consensus first-team All-American since 1953; Angel Delgado, the 2015 Big East Rookie of the Year; and Sandro Mamukelashvili, the 2021 Big East co-Player of the Year and the 54th overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft.
However, Willard only had four recruiting classes ranked within the top 50, according to 247 Sports. The 2014 recruiting class was his best group, ranking 16th in the nation and third in the Big East. Whitehead is the only five-star prospect Willard recruited to Seton Hall during his tenure.
Willard will inherit a Maryland team that endured one of its worst seasons in decades. With graduate transfers Fatts Russell and Xavier Green and senior Eric Ayala set to depart and sophomore guard Marcus Dockery entering the transfer portal Tuesday, juniors Donta Scott and Hakim Hart and freshman Julian Reese are the Terps’ key players expected to return.
Childs Walker contributed to this story.