Maryland has its man. After a three-month search, the Terrapins are hiring Seton Hall's Kevin Willard to be the ninth men's basketball coach in program history.
This hire comes after previous head coach Mark Turgeon parted ways with the team on Dec. 3. It was a coaching search full of rumors featuring one big-name candidate after another. But whether or not Willard was their first choice, the Terps wasted no time agreeing to terms once the Pirates were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament on Friday night by Texas Christian.
Willard, 46, began his head coaching career at Iona (2007-2010), where he turned a two-win team into a 21-win team in just three years. He then took over a Seton Hall program that had seen four head coaches come and go over 16 seasons from 1993 to 2010 with only three NCAA appearances. A program that played for the national championship in 1989 and was a consistent contender in the Big East had fallen on hard times.
Willard rebuilt it slowly. It took six year before the Pirates finally made the NCAA Tournament again in 2016. But during his 12-year tenure, Seton Hall made the tournament five times and would have played in a sixth if not for the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020.
Related: Is a lack of D.C. schools in the NCAA Tournament a trend?
What 'rebuild' is awaiting him at Maryland is similar to the situation he first faced at Seton Hall but on a bigger stage in the Big Ten and with much higher expectations. Willard's Pirates won just one game in his five NCAA Tournament appearances (1-5).
Turgeon, meanwhile, faced withering criticism for not reaching the Sweet 16 regularly. Maryland made it that far and beyond 12 times under Hall-of-Fame coaches Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams between 1972 to 2003. Williams led the Terrapins to the Final Four in 2001 and again in 2002 when the program won its first national championship.
Turgeon fielded consistently solid teams after taking over in 2011. Following an early three-year rebuild, the Terps made the NCAAs five times between 2014-2019 and were poised for a sixth when his tri-Big Ten championship team in 2020 had its dreams of a deep tournament run dashed by the COVID cancelation.
But recruiting fell off badly in recent seasons -- next year's Maryland class has no signed recruits -- and fan discontent grew. Turgeon, who just signed a contract extension last March through 2026, and the school pursued a mutual parting after a 5-3 start to this past season.
Willard will face pressure to rebuild quickly.
Willard was able to consistenly match Turgeon's efforts on the recruiting trail -- and arguably surpassed him overall given the late fall-off in Turgeon's recruiting.
Willard's most recent class ranked No. 32 in the country according to 247Sports. He's posted no fewer than seven top-100 classes and three in the top-50, His best year was in 2014 when the Pirates' class was ranked No. 16 in the country and featured NBA player Isaiah Whitehead.
Willard should find an easier sales job at Maryland, where the Xfinity Center is an on-campus arena that can hold 17,950 and is a formidable home-court advantage when packed. Seton Hall plays its games at Prudential Center, which is a bigger arena (18,711) but located five miles away from the South Orange, N.J. campus in downtown Newark and is the primary home of the NHL's New Jersey Devils.
Maryland's storied history -- first in the Atlantic Coast Conference and now the Big Ten -- and its location directly in the middle of the fertile Baltimore-Washington recruiting grounds are an advantage, too.
Willard's name has surfaced as a candidate for bigger jobs in recent years. This was the cycle that finally pulled him away from Seton Hall. He inherits a Terrapins team that finished a respectable 15-17 (7-13 in the Big Ten) despite the early drama surrounding Turgeon's departure and playing most of the season for interim coach Danny Manning.