Entering his third season as head coach of Iona College, Kevin Willard continues to build on the foundation of his program. With a second solid recruiting class under his belt, Willard’s Gaels will look to continue to compete for the MAAC Championship and an NCAA Tournament Appearance.
During his first year as a head coach - and first in New Rochelle - the Gaels finished with 10 more victories than the previous year, one of the top turnarounds in NCAA Div. I in 2007-08. He instilled his foundation of up tempo, aggressive play with an emphasis on having fun playing the game of basketball to his young team. At 33, Willard is one of the youngest coaches in Division I. In 2008-09, his squad boasted one of the youngest lineups in the nation with eight freshmen and three sophomores. Scott Machado set a new Iona rookie standard for assists and became the third player in program history to win the MAAC’s Rookie of the Year Award.
Director of Athletics Patrick Lyons announced the appointment of Kevin Willard as the 11th men’s basketball head coach on Apr. 10, 2007 as a part of an official press announcement in the Hynes Athletics Center. Willard returned to the tri-state area after serving the previous six seasons as an assistant and associate head coach at the University of Louisville.
Mentored by college coaching legend Rick Pitino at Louisville, Willard is the latest former Pitino assistant to join the head coaching ranks; a list that includes several current NCAA head coaches. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Florida’s Billy Donovan, Arizona State’s Herb Sendek, Minnesota’s Tubby Smith, and Holy Cross’ Sean Kearney are among the many successful members of the Pitino coaching tree.
"There are not too many times you get say that your dreams have come true, but this has truly been a dream of mine since I’ve been following my father around St. Dominic’s High School in Long Island as a little kid," said Willard. "This is truly an honor, not only because I’m becoming a head basketball coach but I’m becoming a head coach at a college with such great tradition and history. To follow the footsteps of Coach Valvano and Coach Welsh at such a great institution is a complete honor and a dream."
In addition to Pitino, Willard credits his father Ralph as one of his coaching influences. He will look to continue the up-tempo style, pressure defense, and strong work ethic that helped Louisville’s return to national prominence during his six seasons at the University.
"The three-pointer is one of the most important aspects of the college game," said Willard. "Scoring from and defending the perimeter will be one of the keys to this ‘fun’ style of basketball. Fun for the players and fun for the fans."
At Louisville, Willard was responsible for assisting with Louisville’s game preparations, scouting and preparing game plans to aid the Cardinals in the attack of their opposition. He also served as chief recruiting coordinator.
During his tenure, Louisville was ranked in the Top 25 for five seasons and reached the post season in each of his six years. The squad reached the NCAA Tournament on four occasions including a visit to the 2005 Final Four, the first time in 19 years that the Cardinals had advanced that deep into the post season. In his six seasons at Louisville, the Cardinals posted a phenomenal 142-58 record averaging nearly 24 wins per season.
In the historic 2004-05 campaign, Louisville finished as the No. 3 team in the nation in the final 2004-05 ESPN/USA Today poll while posting a stellar 33-5 record. The win total matched the most victories in U of L history. The Cardinals also earned their first-ever Conference USA regular season title and also claimed the league tournament championship. Louisville reached its first NCAA Sweet 16 since 1997 as the No. 4 seed in the Albuquerque Regional before advancing to its first NCAA Final Four since 1986.
When Pitino took a short medical leave in 2004, Willard guided the Cardinals to a 64-48 victory over Houston in Freedom Hall for the one game during Pitino’s absence.
Prior to Louisville, Willard worked with Pitino as a coaching associate with the Boston Celtics for four years. His duties with the Celtics included game and practice preparation, scouting and assisting the coaching staff in all basketball matters. He provided advance scouting, video tape breakdowns and assisted with individual workouts prior to games.
Willard, 34, was a collegiate basketball point guard, playing his last three years at Pittsburgh. He earned BIG EAST All-Academic honors while appearing in 75 games for the Panthers.
He played his freshman season at Western Kentucky, where he played in the Hilltoppers’ backcourt and sank over 40 percent of his three-point goals.
Willard hails from New York, but played his high school basketball at Bowling Green High School (Ky.) while his father was the head coach at Western Kentucky. He earned Second Team All-State honors as a senior and helped his team to a combined 76-15 record in his final three prep seasons.
He played in college for his father Ralph, a former head coach at Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Holy Cross and current Associate Head Coach at Louisville
He is married to the former Julie Wagner and they have two sons, Colin, who was born in August, 2006 and Chase born in June, 2008.