Williams believes Maryland did a 'great job' hiring Willard originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The University of Maryland officially named Kevin Willard as the school’s new men’s basketball head coach on Monday, hoping the 46-year-old will be the right man to lead the Terrapins back to national prominence.
Maryland’s program is currently at a crossroads. Longtime head coach Mark Turgeon left the team just eight games into the 2021-22 season after 11-plus years at the school. The Terps finished under .500 for the first time since 1992-93. A change in direction was absolutely necessary.
When it comes to anything about Maryland basketball, perhaps no opinion matters more than the one of Gary Williams. Take a deep breath, Terps fans, Maryland’s legendary coach joined The Sports Junkies on Tuesday and said he believes the program made the right choice by hiring Willard.
“I think they did a great job in getting Kevin Willard,” Williams said.
Following the departure of Turgeon, Maryland president Dr. Darryll Pines and athletic director Damon Evans hired a search firm to help find the school’s next head coach. Williams said he was contacted multiple times by the firm. He gave his opinion on a number of names but is thrilled the Terps ended up hiring Willard.
Willard arrives in College Park from Seton Hall, where he spent the last 12 years as the Pirates’ head coach. Willard built Seton Hall’s program from the ground up, taking over an underperforming program and turning them into an annual tournament squad by the end of his tenure. Seton Hall made five of the last six NCAA Tournaments and would have made six of the last seven had the 2020 season not been halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
In Willard, Williams believes Maryland is getting a coach whose work ethic is as strong as any boss in all of college basketball.
“I think he brings that ethic into a program. I think players appreciate that,” Williams said. “They appreciate coaches that they know are with them grinding. You ask players to grind hard every day. If they know the coach is, then they respect that. I think that’s a strength that Kevin definitely brings.”
Under Willard, Seton Hall typically had some of the toughest defensive teams in the country. Williams believes that will carry over to Maryland, partly because that’s Willard’s style of coaching.
“He brings it every day, to practice to the games, and his teams reflect that,” Williams said. “They really work hard. One thing you can be pretty consistent at is your defense. Somedays the ball doesn’t go in offensively. But you can still win games just based on how hard you work and your defense.”
One of Willard’s first tasks as Maryland’s new boss will be filling out his staff. One name that has been rumored to join the Terps staff is former George Mason guard Tony Skinn, who has most recently worked as an Ohio State assistant. Williams believes adding Skinn “checks a lot of boxes” due to Skinn’s knowledge of the DMV area — one of the deepest recruiting hotspots in the country — and his AAU background in D.C.
Another specific thing Williams made clear was the importance of having former Maryland players on Willard’s staff — something that hurt Turgeon in recent years.
“The connection to Maryland is important,” Williams said. “To be honest, one of the things that hurt Mark [Turgeon] a little bit was there was no connection with former players. You look at some staffs like Carolina, Syracuse, they have all former players. Duke is another example.”
Although Willard doesn’t personally have any deep roots to Maryland or the DMV area, Williams believes Maryland’s new coach understands just how important having people in the program with ties to the local region is.
“Kevin understands that. He’s been a head coach now both at Iona and Seton Hall,” Williams said. “He understands the importance of staff and how the staff fits a particular job. It’s not just hiring really good basketball guys as assistant coaches, but [if] they fit with what you’re dealing with in your particular situation.”