It was only a matter of time before schools in search of a new head coach came calling about Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard.
According to reports, Willard is at the top of Virginia Tech’s list following the departure of Buzz Williams to Texas A&M. The Hokies are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, have top-notch facilities and enough money to persuade Willard to come to Blacksburg.
Not many coaches get the opportunity to coach in the ACC. It is college basketball’s premier conference and the allure will make it hard for Willard to say no. However, with next year’s Seton Hall team primed to be the best one Willard has coached in his time in South Orange, now is not the time for him to leave.
In nine seasons, Willard has led the Pirates to a Big East Championship, four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and one NCAA Tournament win.
More importantly, he has nearly perfected the science of recruiting at a school whose facilities do not stack up to other high-profile programs in the Big East and around the country.
Arguably Willard’s most impressive coaching job came this past season, as he guided a young, inexperienced team that was projected to wind up in the NIT to a 20-win season and NCAA Tournament bid. Programs around the country have taken notice.
It took Willard a long time to build Seton Hall back up to respectability.
Right off the bat, he was tasked with cleaning up the mess that Bobby Gonzalez left behind. Five years into his time in South Orange, it looked like Willard was on his way out after a collapse of epic proportion at the end of the 2014-15 season. Athletic Director Pat Lyons gave Willard one last chance to prove he could coach at this level and Willard responded with four consecutive 20-win seasons, something no other coach in program history has accomplished.
Finally, Seton Hall is a team that can play with any team in the country.
Willard has assembled a team loaded with talent and will return All-America Honorable Mention selection Myles Powell next season, along with three other starters, a handful of key reserves and a trio of impact players entering the mix.
Beyond the on-court aspect of it all, Willard has a special relationship with the group returning next season. Powell views his coach as a father figure, while the rest of the team essentially rides or dies with its head coach.
Every player on Seton Hall’s roster loves Willard, and Willard loves them back. It’s rare that happens in a game filled with so many egos and the constant hunger to do whatever it takes to get to the top.
If there were ever a time for Willard to dig in and remain at Seton Hall, it would be now. There are other factors at play here, but from a basketball perspective, the Pirates are in the position that Willard dreamed of when he took the job. There’s no denying that Seton Hall trails far behind Virginia Tech in terms of its facilities, campus environment and what it has to offer as an ACC program, but why leave something that has the potential to be so special?
Willard needs to take a look in the mirror and realize that Seton Hall is the place he needs to be for at least one more year. Next season, he will have the chance to lead the Pirates to a place the program has not gone since the P.J. Carlesimo era. Virginia Tech is a good opportunity, but winning big at Seton Hall is an even better one.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.