Accepting Kevin Willard

Remember when only a few short months ago when it “Was time to talk about Turgeon” (Its time to talk about Turgeon – Fans celebrated, embraced the idea of change, and could not wait for an exciting new brand of basketball to arrive in College Park. No name was out of the discussion, including dream scenarios like Mark Few, Scott Drew, or even the return of Gary Williams. Fans debated Bruce Pearl, Rick Pitino, and Nate Oats over which was most deserving of the illustrious position we assumed was highly touted. In an absolute worst-case scenario, we would be looking at Todd Golden (Hired by Florida), Sean Miller (Now at Xavier), or local and former Dematha coach Mike Brey (Notre Dame).  

Fans would flourish to Xfinity Center the moment the offense returns. Local recruits will continue to be a priority and the new coach will be break the “Dematha Wall” to keep top level talent where it belongs. Not only will the Big 10, be put on notice, but the entire NCAA will watch as Maryland returns to prominence and challenge top tier programs even before the Big 10 games begin.  

Damon Evans and President Darryl Pines were allegedly both conducting their own searches before ultimately hiring Atlanta based Parker executive firm to find its next head coach. After months of searching for the ideal candidate, Maryland hires…. Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard.  

Outrage is an understatement from this writer’s perspective. Didn’t we just fire Mark Turgeon? WHY WOULD WE HIRE KEVIN WILLARD?!? We heard whispers of this hire several days in advance and knew it was a possibility, but there is no way this could be true. In preparation, I started documenting my thoughts watching the NCAA tournament and hearing from an inside source Willard was going to be the hire as if I were experiencing the five stages of grief. Here are my thoughts and my eventual hopes for this program.  

Denial: 3/17/22 

I just heard the rumor of Kevin Willard becoming Maryland’s next Head Coach. There is NO F-ing way that happens. This must be a negotiation tactic, or a false rumor. While he seems like a great guy, Maryland fans would riot in the streets. Ticket sales have been down and with this much anticipation of the new hire there is zero chance this is true. My source is wrong. They misheard information or are exaggerating the situation. I am staying up to watch Todd Golden/Matt McMahon game. I think Golden would be a sneaky good hire, but I would not be upset if we hire McMahon. I think he may have similar success that Brad Underwood did at Illinois.  

Anger: 3/18/22 

42 POINTS!?! 69 to FREAKING 42??? 42 points after having time to prepare against (checks notes) Texas Christian University!?! My source swears Kevin Willard is already a done deal. Twitter is starting to leak that it is a done deal. Fire Damon Evans, Fire Darryl Pines, Fire everyone involved. I am shaking, laughing, and screaming utter nonsense. F this. All of this. We do not fear the turtle, we fear change. 

Bargaining 3/19/22 

Damon Evans must be reading the feedback from the reports. This loss to TCU might be enough if he is having buyer’s remorse. There is no way this was the best option. I know Pearl, Pitino, and a few others are out, but keep watching the tournament. Find someone else. If Kentucky is that upset with Coach Calipari, he might be interested in Maryland. Get Jamie Dixon. He has crushed it as TCU’s head coach and just embarrassed Willard on a national stage.  

Depression 3/20/22 

I have read all the stats, watched all the interviews, and watched film on Seton Hall. I do not care he is a good guy. He has a former player, Myles Powell, suing him over medical issues. The contract is for 7 years. We have approximately seven years of this. We are accepting average. My children will never have the same experience I had with this program. Two of my children will be moved out of the house (God willing), and my youngest in their most influential years, will have no desire to watch this mess. Basketball is trending in one direction and Maryland refused to adjust accordingly. My kids will not want to attend games. I am legitimately heart broken.  

Acceptance 3/21/22 

It is official. Kevin Willard. 7 years.  

The typical response I have seen is “Meh” from fans. The general thought is that it is a safe hire but eerily similar to the Turgeon hire. However, most coaches are giving ringing endorsements. Not your typical, canned answers of “It is a good hire.”  but instead, the coaching circles such as Gary Williams, P.J. Carlesimo, Seton Hall athletic Director Bryan Felt, Rick Pitino, and Jay Bilas rave about Willard. Granted it would be unprofessional to dismiss Willard at this time and most names above have an affiliation with Willard in some form, but the overall theme is something we have not seen in a while, which is playing an inspired basketball brand of basketball with an emphasis on player development.  

Turgeon could undoubtedly recruit, but I do not believe he developed his players to their potential. Shooting statistics were awful, gameplans rarely changed, and even starts such as Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Bruno Fernando, Jalen Smith, and others never took a leap in their advancement during the offseason. Instead, we mostly watched natural maturation of men.  

Willard has not had anything close to the resources he will have at Maryland. A state-of-the-art practice facility is already in the works, with a significantly more fertile recruiting ground than he found in South Orange, New Jersey. He is already expected to bring in Tony Skinn of Ohio State to help recruit and looking at Seton Hall’s record this past season I see wins against tournament teams Yale, Michigan, Creighton, Texas, and UConn while also beating Xavier, California, and Wagner despite the lack of resources.  

At only 46-years-old, Willard has won 270 games as a head coach despite inheriting a terrible Iona squad and an abysmal Seton Hall in 2010. Willard seems to have done more with less than Mark Turgeon had Maryland, including a 78 – 74 win against Mark Turgeon in the 2018-2019 season where Myles Powell scored 27 points against Bruno Fernando and Anthony Cowan led squad.  

Not only that, but Willard is jumping into a better position than he previously knew. While Maryland is rebuilding, they currently have pieces in place that may choose to stay after meeting their new coach known for his temperament and development. Julian Reese, Donta Scott, Hakim Hart, Qudus Wahab and red shirt Ike Cornish are still on Maryland’s roster and that is not a bad place to start. I imagine some pieces will still need to shift into place after the transfer portal does its yearly rotation, but there is more talent than Willard is accustomed to starting a program. Point guard will be a priority as Willard is known to allow a lot of freedom with the guard, but he should have an opportunity to address the position this offseason.  

Dare I say that I have accepted coach Willard? Not yet. I am still angry at the way all of this was handled and the ultimate result. I will ultimately support the coach as a diehard fan of the team but not necessarily the hire. While I was optimistic for a splash hire to instantly restart the program, this might not be the tragedy that originally seemed imminent. The fact is, we do not know what we have yet, and we will have to be patient as he builds the program. We know that his record in the tournament is 1 – 5, which will not sit with Maryland fans. However, Willard will have a greater opportunity to resource, develop, and inspire a team that we have not seen in a while, and I can accept that.  

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