Ralph Willard, whose 39 years of coaching experience include 19 as a collegiate head basketball coach, has joined the University of Louisville men's basketball staff as assistant coach to Cardinals' head coach Rick Pitino.
Willard, who has served as head coach for four seasons at Western Kentucky (1990-94), five years at Pittsburgh (1994-99) and 10 at Holy Cross (1999-2009), has previously coached with Pitino on three occasions. Willard was an assistant under Pitino with the NBA New York Knicks (1987-89), at the University of Kentucky (1989-90) and at Louisville (2009-10), where he also served a year with the Cardinals as Director of Basketball Operations (2010-11).
"I've asked Ralph Willard to come back for next year as we have a totally new basketball team," said Pitino. "I couldn't afford any other changes, including potentially moving David Padgett up this year because he is invaluable as our director of basketball operations. I needed someone who knows the University of Louisville and knows our program. Ralph is a great basketball mind, a great evaluator of talent and will be tremendous working with our new team. I'm really excited to welcome him back."
"My long professional and personal relationship with Rick, past time with UofL and the program, and most importantly a complete knowledge of the defensive and offensive system, along with their teaching points, should enable a seamless transition that will allow me an opportunity to add immediate value to what I have observed to be a strong and cohesive staff," said Willard.
"In our discussions about the possibility of my joining the staff, Rick laid out the reasons he thought this would be advantageous for the program and give him the best situation to maximize the development of a very young team. I look forward with great anticipation to joining the staff, teaching and coaching these young men, and doing whatever Rick feels would add the most value to the staff and the program. I can't wait to get started."
After leaving the Cardinals in 2011, Willard worked as a consultant for Holy Cross for two years before serving as a scout for the NBA Oklahoma City Thunder for the 2013-14 season.
Eight of Willard's collegiate teams won 20 or more games, including four that won as many as 25. His teams participated in postseason competition on nine occasions, including six NCAA Tournament appearances.
Willard compiled a 192-117 record in 10 seasons at Holy Cross, his alma mater, while guiding five teams to postseason competition (NCAA Tournament in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007; NIT in 2005). Holy Cross advanced to the Patriot League tournament championship game seven of the last nine years and Willard had a 17-6 record in the event.
Second in career coaching victories at Holy Cross, Willard built the Crusaders' program from one that had won just 22 games collectively in the three years prior to his arrival there. A three-time choice for the Patriot League Coach of the Year, he led the Crusaders to three straight league tournament titles in 2001-03, marking the first time in conference history that a team had accomplished that feat.
Willard gained his first collegiate head coaching position at Western Kentucky, where he produced an 81-42 record in four years. In his third season there in 1992-93, the Hilltoppers were 26-6, reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, and achieved WKU's highest national ranking in 22 years (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP in the final polls).
He was the head coach at Pittsburgh for five seasons, including finishing fifth in the BIG EAST in 1996-97 when his team produced an 18-15 mark. While at Pitt, Willard helped to develop a pair of NBA Draft picks in Mark Blount (Seattle SuperSonics) and Vonteego Cummings (Indiana Pacers).
Prior to his first collegiate head coaching position in 1990, Willard compiled 19 years of coaching experience. After one year as an assistant at the Merchant Marine Academy (1971-72), he spent 13 years as the head coach of his high school alma mater, St. Dominic (Oyster Bay, N.Y.), where he posted a 162-89 mark. He received five conference coach of the year honors there and his 1980 squad won the New York Class B Championship with a 24-3 record. St. Dominic is also the high school alma mater of Pitino.
He returned to the collegiate ranks in 1984 as an assistant coach at Hofstra, followed by a year on Jim Boeheim's staff at Syracuse, where he helped the 1986-87 Orangeman team reach the national championship game. Willard left the college game for two seasons to serve under Pitino with the Knicks, before following Pitino to Kentucky, where he served as the Wildcats' associate head coach for one season.
A 1967 graduate of Holy Cross, Willard was a three-year letterwinner and served as the 1966-67 team captain as a senior when the Crusaders posted a 16-9 mark.
Willard and his wife, Dorothy, have three children: Pamela, Keith, and Kevin, who is a former UofL assistant coach under Pitino (2001-07) and is currently the head men's basketball coach at Seton Hall.