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.Â “To me, itâ€™s all about teaching and winning and relationships. To me, thatâ€™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.