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Ralph Willard is in his ninth season at the helm of the Holy Cross men's basketball program in 2007-2008, and if the first eight seasons are any indication, the Crusaders should enjoy sustained success for years to come.
In his first eight years at Holy Cross, Willard has directed his squad to 159 wins, averaging over 19 wins per season. The 159 victories are the second highest total for a Crusader head coach in school history, trailing only George Blaney (357-276 / 1972-1994).
Willard led the Crusaders to three straight Patriot League tournament titles in 2001, 2002 and 2003, marking the first time in conference history that a team has accomplished that feat. He has posted a 79-29 mark in regular season conference play, and a 15-4 mark in conference tournament action. In 2005, he led Holy Cross to the Patriot League's first-ever postseason victory, a 78-73 win at Notre Dame in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Holy Cross has won at least 20 games in five of the last seven seasons, including a current streak of three straight years with 20 victories. The Crusaders have also advanced to postseason play five times in the last seven seasons, taking part in the NCAA tournament four times (2001, 2002, 2003 and 2007) and the National Invitation Tournament once (2005). During that time, Holy Cross has twice been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by teams that went on to the Final Four (Kansas in 2002; Marquette in 2003). The average margin of defeat in those two games was less than 10 points and the Crusaders led both games late in the second half.
Last season, Willard guided the Crusaders to an overall record of 25-9, with a 13-1 mark in the Patriot League. Holy Cross won the conference regular season and tournament titles, while making its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance under Willard. Following the conclusion of the season, Willard was honored as the Patriot League Coach of the Year for the third time in his career.
During the 2004-2005 campaign, Willard led his team to an overall record of 25-7 and the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. The Crusaders also posted a 13-1 mark in Patriot League regular season games, to claim the conference regular season title after being picked to finish fourth in the preseason. In addition, Willard was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, and was a finalist for the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year award.
In 2002-2003, Willard led Holy Cross to its second highest win total in school history (26) and its second regular season league title during his tenure. It marked the first time in Holy Cross history that the Crusaders advanced to three straight NCAA Tournaments.
Willard came to Holy Cross in the 1999-2000 season, and was asked to turn around a Crusader team which had won just 22 of its 89 games in the three seasons before his hiring. In his debut season, Willard led the Crusaders to their best record (10-18) in four years, despite losing four starters to injury for much of the season. Willard's Holy Cross debut was a memorable one, as he led Holy Cross to an upset of Big East foe Providence in the season opener. Then in his second season, Willard earned Patriot League Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Crusaders to both the regular season and tournament titles in 2000-2001.
Willard is just the 14th head coach in the 88-year history of the program. He is the seventh Holy Cross graduate to hold the position, and also serves as an assistant athletic director. A 1967 graduate of the college, Willard was a three-year letterwinner and served as the 1966-1967 team captain. In his senior season the Crusaders posted a 16-9 mark.
This is Willard's third collegiate head coaching position. He previously served as the head coach at Western Kentucky and Pittsburgh before his current tenure at Holy Cross. Overall, in 17 years of coaching he holds a 303-213 mark.
He has taken his teams to the postseason in nine of his 17 seasons, including a run to the Sweet 16 with Western Kentucky in 1993. His experience also includes two seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks, as well as assistant coaching positions at Syracuse and Kentucky. While at Syracuse, he helped the Orangemen advance to the NCAA championship game in 1987.
Willard's first collegiate head coaching position came at Western Kentucky. At Western Kentucky, Willard inherited a team picked last in the Sun Belt Conference and led the Hilltoppers to a 14-14 mark and third place in the league in the 1990-1991 season. The next year, Western Kentucky posed a 21-11 mark and earned an NIT berth. Willard then led the Hilltoppers to even greater heights, as his 1992-1993 team finished 16th in the USA Today poll and 20th in the Associated Press poll. It was the school's highest finish in the polls since its run to the Final Four in 1970-1971. Included in the 1992-1993 campaign was a victory over nationally ranked Louisville, an NCAA tournament win over Memphis State, and an NCAA upset of No. 5 Seton Hall to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.
At Pittsburgh, Willard helped to develop such players as Mark Blount (drafted by the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics) and Vonteego Cummings (a District I All-American in 1999).
Prior to taking the Western Kentucky job in 1990, Willard compiled 19 years of coaching experience. After a one-year stint as an assistant at the Merchant Marine Academy (1971-1972), he spent 13 seasons as the head coach of his high school alma mater, St. Dominic (Oyster Bay, N.Y.), where he posted a 162-89 mark. His 1980 squad won the New York Class B Championship with a 24-3 record, and he was chosen as the conference coach of the year five times.
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 1986-1987 Orangeman team reach the national championship game.
Willard left the college game for two seasons to serve under Rick Pitino with the NBA's New York Knicks, before following Pitino to Kentucky where he served as the Wildcats' associate head coach for the 1989-1990 season.
"It is really special to be back at my alma mater," said Willard upon his hiring. "The resurrection of the basketball program is a challenge I truly relish."
Willard and his wife, Dorothy, have three children, Pamela, Keith, and Kevin. His son Kevin is currently the head men's basketball coach at Iona College.
Willard's Coaching Experience
Years School / Team Position 1971-1972 Merchant Marine Academy Assistant Coach 1972-1984 St. Dominic H.S. (Oyster Bay, N.Y.) Head Coach 1984-1985 Hofstra Assistant Coach 1986-1987 Syracuse Assistant Coach 1987-1989 New York Knicks (NBA) Assistant Coach 1989-1990 Kentucky Associate Head Coach 1990-1994 Western Kentucky Head Coach 1994-1999 Pittsburgh Head Coach 1999-present Holy Cross Head Coach
Willard's Collegiate Head Coaching Record
Overall Conference Conf. Season School W-L Pct. W-L Pct. Place Postseason Appearances 1990-1991 Western Kentucky 14-14 .500 8-6 .571 Third 1991-1992 Western Kentucky 21-11 .656 10-6 .625 Fourth NIT First Round 1992-1993 Western Kentucky 26-6 .813 14-4 .778 Second NCAA Sweet Sixteen 1993-1994 Western Kentucky 20-11 .645 14-4 .778 First NCAA First Round 1994-1995 Pittsburgh 10-18 .357 5-13 .278 Ninth 1995-1996 Pittsburgh 10-17 .370 5-13 .278 11th 1996-1997 Pittsburgh 18-15 .545 10-8 .556 Fifth NIT Second Round 1997-1998 Pittsburgh 11-16 .407 6-12 .333 10th 1998-1999 Pittsburgh 14-16 .467 5-13 .278 11th 1999-2000 Holy Cross 10-18 .357 3-9 .250 Fifth 2000-2001 Holy Cross 22-8 .733 10-2 .833 First NCAA First Round 2001-2002 Holy Cross 18-15 .545 9-5 .643 Second NCAA First Round 2002-2003 Holy Cross 26-5 .839 13-1 .929 First NCAA First Round 2003-2004 Holy Cross 13-15 .464 7-7 .500 Fifth 2004-2005 Holy Cross 25-7 .781 13-1 .929 First NIT Second Round 2005-2006 Holy Cross 20-12 .625 11-3 .786 Second 2006-2007 Holy Cross 25-9 .735 13-1 .929 First NCAA First Round Holy Cross Totals (Eight Seasons) 159-89 .641 79-29 .731 ---- Four NCAAs, One NIT Career Totals (17 Seasons) 303-213 .587 156-108 .591 ---- Six NCAAs, Three NITs
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