At this time last year, some people – including Kevin Willard – thought Seton Hall was going to axe its head coach.
Now, Willard is getting the crown.
On Wednesday, the Big East announced Willard as its Co-Coach of the Year along with Villanova’s Jay Wright.
“I have to thank my players,” Willard said at a press conference at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. “They have sacrificed and worked so hard.”
Willard’s Pirates are coming off a 22-8 regular season that includes a 12-6 conference record and program-best six conference road wins. At third place in the league, Seton Hall will start the Big East Tournament off with a bye before taking on Creighton in a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday at MSG.
Wright said he was impressed with the progress Seton Hall has made after winning just 16 games last year.
“I want to congratulate Kevin and (Athletic Director) Pat (Lyons),” Wright, who won the award last year as well, said. “That team is positioned to be strong for a long time.”
Xavier’s Chris Mack is the only one who can have any gripes about the winners. His Musketeers (14-4) finished just two games back of Nova (16-2) in conference play and are also the nation’s No. 5 team. Seton Hall split its season-series with Xavier, with the second battle finishing 90-81 in favor of the Pirates on Feb 28.
Seton Hall assistant Grant Billmeier chimed in on Twitter immediately following the award release.
“Congrats to Coach Willard on winning Big East Coach of the Year!” he wrote alongside a picture of Willard and Khadeen Carrington. “Terrific coach and an even better person.”
Willard had some telling comments after that emotional win over Xavier, which all but sealed SHU’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“I give Pat Lyons credit,” Willard said after beating Xavier. “He could have gotten rid of me last year. I told him, ‘If you stick with me, I promise we’re going to win next year. I trust these kids, I know these kids.’ I really give it to Dr. (Gabriel) Esteban and Pat for not making a change.”
After a massive collapse in 2014-15 that saw the Pirates plummet from the nation’s No. 19 team to closing the year with nine losses in 10 games, Willard was not sure he’d be back.
“Honestly?” Willard replied when asked how serious his concerns were. “Jeez, let’s see. The same lady that sold me my house was at my house telling me what a great job we did improving the house. We put some nice curtains up and things like that.”
Now, he’ll have a shiny new award to keep in his house.
Right next to those curtains.
Tom Duffy can be reached at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TJDHoops.