Willard, who came with Pitino from Boston four years ago, is expected to interview for the head coaching position at Eastern Kentucky left vacant when Travis Ford parlayed an Ohio Valley Conference title and NCAA tournament appearance into the head coaching job at Massachusetts.
"I think Kevin is going to get offered a job," said Pitino Thursday afternoon. "Will he take it? I don't know. It's up to Kevin. If that's what he wants, we'll be supportive."
Whether or not Willard actually takes the Colonels job if offered remains to be seen. Recent speculation, including from sources close to the U of L program, has indicated in recent days that Willard will probably remain at Louisville with Pitino, at least through next season.
"Kevin is very similar to Jim O'Brien and Herb Sendek," said Pitino, comparing Willard to two of his more successful former assistants. "He has a great teaching mind. He's terrific."
Though he lost his top recruiter last week when Theus accepted the head coaching job at New Mexico State, Pitino believes the potential losses of Willard, and administrative assistant Scott Davenport would be considerably more damaging for his program. Davenport, an assistant to former Louisville head coach Denny Crum, is rumored to be taking the head coaching job at Bellermine University next season.
"It was OK losing Reggie, because he was 47 and ready to move on," Pitino said. "But if I lose Scotty (Davenport) and Kevin right now it's going to make it difficult because they do so much, and they've been with the program so long. But if that has to happen, it happens."
Even if Willard and Davenport follow Theus' out the door this spring, Pitino's had success throughout the years finding eager assistants to replace those who've moved on to head coaching positions.
"Somebody always takes their place," said Pitino, who has had to replace assistants like Billy Donovan, Tubby Smith, Jim O'Brien, Herb Sendek, and Ralph Willard over the years. "I've always looked for future head coaches. You've also got to make sure your staff meshes well together because you don't want them to be all the same. And it's very important geographically that they're from different areas as well."
So who will Pitino tap to replace Theus, and Willard in the event the 29 year-old takes the EKU job?
"I'm looking at a west coast person, and we may have two openings depending on what happens with Kevin," Pitino said. "I may realign my staff and move Vince into Scotty's position. So I don't where I'm going right now (because) I've first got to figure out what Kevin is doing. But I'm looking for someone from the northeast, and someone from the west coast."
UNLV assistant Marvin Menzies appears one of the top – if not the top – choices to replace Theus. Menzies recently finished his first season under Rebel coach Lon Kruger, and is regarded as one of the top recruiters out west. The 44 year-old Los Angeles native also served as Steve Fischer's chief recruiter at San Diego State from 1999-2003, helping the Aztecs land a Top 25 recruiting class in 2001, and signed the program's first-ever McDonald's All-American, 6-8 Evan Burns from Los Angeles.
Manhattan assistant Steve
Masiello might be the
front-runner to replace
Willard if he takes the
Eastern Kentucky head
Masiello got his coaching start under former Tulane head coach Shawn Finney, and has served as Bobby Gonazalez' top assistant the past two years. And though Masiello played at Kentucky under both Pitino and Tubby Smith, his roots are firmly entrenched in the New York area, as he grew up in White Plains and attended Archbishop Stepinac High School.
Though replacements haven't yet been found, one thing appears certain. Whoever gets the job(s) on Pitino's staff will likely be cut from the same mold he's used to choose assistants so successfully in the past.
"I'm looking for someone who is a tireless worker, and has had vast experience scouting," Pitino said. "And I think one of the key things today is evaluating talent properly."