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June 10, 2009

Ralph Willard, a dismal failure as head basketball coach at Pitt. A coach who could recruit, but ignored character while at Pitt.

Well, Willard is leaving his position as head coach of Holy Cross — his alma mater — to resume being Rick Pitino’s manservant lackey assistant.

I only made it to Fitzgerald for two games in the Willard era. Both ended the same way. Pitt blew huge leads and lost when the opposing team shot a gamewinner at the buzzer. The UConn game that sealed his fate and against Rutgers a year or two before.

I wish him nothing but the worst.

Not sure I agree with the Ralph Willard hate. He had a pretty good class the one year looking back on it. Cummings and Blunt made it to the NBA. I think he got screwed a bit too, because Pitt promised him a new arena which didn’t come till later. Not saying I loved the guy, but I think if a few things broke differently he would still be coaching at Pitt.

Comment by Jason 06.10.09 @ 1:44 pm

My My,such vindictiveness. Coach Willard did a fair job at my Alma Mater(Pitt) but a superior job at the fine institution of Holy Cross.(Where Character DOES count) His son worked with Pitino(I believe) after playing some decent roundball for our Panthers. I,for one wish Mr. Willard the best For the Cardinals except when they play Pitt.

Comment by rev. george mehaffey 06.10.09 @ 2:14 pm

The “character” comment caught my attention. Could you expand upon it?

Comment by BigGuy 06.11.09 @ 9:39 am

I don’t remember all of the details because I was living in Texas at the time, but several players during the Willard years got into serious trouble with the law, and a few had other off-court issues. One of the criticisms of Willard that arose during that era was that he recruited players with questionable backgrounds, and did not effectively discipline players. I remember that Kellii Taylor had several issues (including alcohol dependency), Fred Primus was arrested during a road trip to Villanova for grand theft, Attila Cosby was thrown off the team for fighting with an assistant coach, etc. When Howland arrived, part of his task was to instill more accountability on and off the court, and he ended up dismissing several more players. To be fair to Willard, I don’t know that the off-court issues reflected poorly on his character as much as they reflected on the fact that he may have been in over his head.

Comment by Pantherman13 06.11.09 @ 1:29 pm

Pantherman13, thanks. All of that is a “blank” me. It happened when I had little interest.

Comment by BigGuy 06.11.09 @ 3:54 pm

This is a little harsh. Plus, remember, people harp on discipline issues when the team underperforms but turn a blind eye when the program is successful. There have been some not-too-positive things that have went down under the Howland-Dixon era.

Willard’s crime is that he was sold as the next coming of Pitino and fell way short. He was in over his head, and did quite well for himself at Holy Cross.

Now going back to being an ass’t, that’s strange but maybe he just doesn’t want all the responsibility of a head coach. I’m sure he still has a lot to offer as a coach.

Comment by Kek 06.12.09 @ 2:42 am

To be fair to Howland/Dixon, the player discipline issues under Willard were considerably worse than under Howland/Dixon. There are still articles floating around about the Primus incident, where four players snuck out of the team hotel while on a roadtrip to Villanova, went to somebody’s house to watch a boxing match, and Primus ended up stealing a bunch of jewelry. Academic standards also suffered during that period. And it seemed that just when the last incident faded from view, something else would happen. Fair or not, the general perception of the Pitt basketball program by the late ’90s was that it was out of control. This was probably reinforced when Howland, in his first year, threw several of the holdover players off the team for discipline and academic shortcomings.

The evidence suggests that Willard is a good coach, but I get the feeling that he was simply not prepared to deal with the realities of a bigger program on an urban campus. I don’t think it is any reason to hold him in contempt – Pitt just was not a good fit for him as a head coach.

Comment by Pantherman13 06.12.09 @ 9:47 am

Comment by BigGuy 06.12.09 @ 10:24 am

I’m starting to see the picture:

link to

Comment by BigGuy 06.12.09 @ 10:35 am

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