Willard is not backing down from high expectations at Maryland originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Coaching the men’s basketball program at the University of Maryland is a demanding gig. The administration and the fan base have high expectations for the Terrapins after the sustained success that Hall-of-Fame coaches Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams built during their long tenures.
New head coach Kevin Willard is ready to face those challenges head-on. He is not hiding from those exigencies. In fact, the ninth head coach in program history knows what is expected from him, stating them outright in his introductory press conference.
“This is a top-10 job in college basketball, hands down,” Willard said moments after getting introduced at Xfinity Center Tuesday with his wife, Julie, as the Maryland fight song played in the background. “I would not have moved my family and left a place that I loved very dearly if I did not think this was a place that we should be winning national championships as a top ten job, and that’s what I believe this is and that’s the vision (Athletic Director) Damon (Evans) gave me from the start.”
National championships. That’s the goal. The former Seton Hall head coach did not make any promises to deliver on that goal in x amount of years. But Willard, 46, knows that’s the objective at a school like Maryland. After all, Williams has already done it with a national championship in 2002. The banner hung high above Willard’s head.
Move past the months-long coaching search debates on where the Maryland job ranks among the top 20 or 30 programs in the country. Willard not only thinks this is a top-10 job, but he is also humbled and honored to be the one to guide a program of that caliber.
It’s only been a handful of days since the hiring but his confidence and genuine excitement at the podium restored the refreshing aura that comes with hiring a new coach. There was discontent from a faction of the fan base feeling that the program ‘settled’ for a coach who has only won one game in the NCAA Tournament despite making it five times at Seton Hall. After all, limited March success is the exact reason why things didn’t work out with former coach Mark Turgeon.
Don’t make any mistakes about it, though. Success may not have followed him in March, but Willard delivered on big stages. Willard’s Pirates had 28 wins in his 12 seasons against teams ranked in the Associated Press’ Top 25.
By comparison, the Terps had 22 wins against the top-25 over that same span. Importantly, success against the Big Ten has followed him too. On top of beating Maryland twice while at Seton Hall, Willard also had 11 total wins against the Big Ten conference – the most of any other non-Big Ten coach, according to Evans.
This isn’t a coach jumping into a better job as he ascends the coaching ladder. Despite the recency of a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, things were great in New Jersey for him all things considered. For twelve years – a long commitment for a coach and a program – he succeeded in bringing the program back to prominence in the Big East.
Now, Willard is coming to College Park to write the next chapter of Maryland basketball. If he gets 12 years with the Terps, both sides should be extremely fortunate.
And what he did promise at his opening press conference rings sweet sounds to Terps’ fans’ ears.
“What our teams are going to do and what we are going to do, is we’re going to bring that swagger that Coach Williams had and that Joe Smith, Stevie Francis, Steve Blake, I could keep on going on – Juan Dixon,” Willard said. “We are going to bring back that passion, that energy that Coach Williams coached with, that his players played with, and that the swagger was something that a kid growing up in Huntington, Long Island turning on ESPN and watching a Maryland game, all of a sudden, wants to go to the University of Maryland because that’s how [Williams’s] teams played.”
Throughout his career, Willard has shown the utmost dedication and passion for his teams. That’s reflected by his energy on the bench and the way his players respond on the court.
Already, it appears Willard understands what Maryland (the school and the fan base) will demand from him. He directly addressed all of the fans’ biggest concerns and has all the resources to meet them like he’s never had before in his career.
Everything bodes well for a happy marriage between the two parties – as most hirings do at the start. Willard gets to prove himself at what he calls a top-10 program in the country. Maryland is getting a coach – who Evans says was their top choice – that knows what the position demands and the makings of delivering on those demands.
“We are going to bring the swag back to Maryland basketball,” Willard said. “And we are going to win at a high level, and I promise you that. Thank you for this opportunity, I will not let you down.”