Probably the best thing about Rick Pitino’s decision to hire Ralph Willard of Holy Cross as his new assistant at the University of Louisville is that Pitino did not stoop to hiring a friend of William Wesley’s (a.k.a. World Wide Wes) in an effort to plug in to that pipeline of controversial connections to high school basketball talent. That was believed to be an option.

The regrettable part is that Wiley Brown, an integral part of U of L’s 1980 championship team, was not the choice. Brown’s credentials have never been questioned and he has paid his dues, serving as strength coach for Pitino and getting successful coaching experience under his belt at Indiana-Southeast with a 24-6 won-lost record last season.

Like many of his decisions, Pitino makes the least predictable one, this time choosing a head coach to become his assistant, a post usually reserved for up and coming coaches. Twenty-one of Pitino’s former assistants or players have become college head coaches. So what do we know about Ralph Willard:

  • The 63-year-old is Pitino’s best friend. Pitino actually presented a surprised Kevin Willard, Ralph’s son, with a Rolex watch when his Iona team played U of L two years ago.
  • The elder Willard, an assistant to Pitino at the New York Knicks and the University of Kentucky, hired Tom Crean (Indiana coach) as an assistant at Western Kentucky University.His coaching record is 303-213.
  • While Willard has had health issues — prostate cancer in 2002 and a heart condition in 2008 — he says the fire still burns within him.  “To me, it’s all about teaching and winning and relationships. To me, that’s what coaching is all about.”
  • Obviously, Willard is not pursuing an easier lifestyle by choosing to work with Pitino, as anyone who has worked closely with Pitino will attest. Pitino has plenty of challenges at present and has always expected people he works with to keep up with his frantic pace.

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Ironically, a blogger for the Albany (NY) Times-Union predicted that Willard’s son, Kevin, would get the recently-vacated University of Southern California job, and would hire his father as his top assistant.

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

8 thoughts on “The Ralph Willard Choice At Louisville”
  1. Some of the speculation, in both the Louisville and Lexington newspapers, about Pitino taking a leave of absence is just absurd. No coaching job becomes vacant for less than three hours before some of the buffoons are speculating that Pitino will be the replacement. It really makes them look clueless.

  2. A good hire for the Cards. Much like Jeff Walz surrounded himself with veteran coaches, and a former head coach, when he first came to Louisville….Pitino has made a move that will give him a veteran sounding board on the bench…which he hasn’t had since Scotty took the job at Bellarmine.

  3. Great move. Head coach at U of L is more stressful than the rest of us can imagine. To have your best friend, and highly trusted basketball mind, be with you every day must feel energizing to Coach P. Takes the pressure off of him to be “the man” every day. More time to recruit, more overall teaching for the players from two great coaches. This is like us having one and three quarters Coach Ps.

  4. Holy Cross fan here. You guys are extremely lucky to be getting Coach Willard. Guys like Al Skinner at BC became afraid to play against his teams, for fear of being outcoached. Players consistently improved over 4 years. Our huge loss is your gain. Best of luck, and thanks Coach Willard.

  5. “Head coach at U of L is more stressful than the rest of us can imagine.”

    Sure it is, especially with everything else he’s trying to cover up.

    He needs a little help.

  6. It is a nice move. Right now — Pitino needs a stable selection to his team. It will add a power punch from the bench. Good Luck Coach Willard!

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