Willard takes reins at Iona as first-time head coach

Updated: April 10, 2007, 2:18 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Kevin Willard was hired Tuesday as the basketball coach at Iona, which hopes the former Rick Pitino assistant can revive a team that began the season 0-22 and finished with the worst record in the program's 62-year history.

Willard spent the past six seasons at Louisville as an assistant and is a head coach for the first time. He succeeds Jeff Ruland, who was bought out of the final two years of his contract.

"Last year doesn't concern me," Willard said at a campus news conference. "I know they went through a hard time, but this is a clean slate."

The Gaels, often starting five freshmen and hampered by injuries, went 2-28 season last year.

Iona president James Liguori offered Willard the job last week. Pitino, the Louisville coach, announced the hiring Friday from the Cardinals' campus.

"[Kevin] will understand our mission," Liguori said. "He will help us to be competitive and he will help us to graduate every student athlete."

Before working at Louisville, Willard spent four years as a coaching associate/scout under Pitino with the Boston Celtics.

Ruland, a former Iona star and two-time NBA All-Star, coached the Gaels for nine seasons. His teams won three Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles and made three NCAA tournament appearances.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press