The BIG EAST Conference has announced that the 2015-16 Coach of the Year has gone to both Villanova Wildcats head coach Jay Wright AND Seton Hall Pirates coach Kevin Willard in a split vote.
With the honor, Wright has made some history. In a conference that has been littered with great coaches since its birth in 1979, Jay Wright is the only man to win five BIG EAST Coach of the Year awards. And, like his Wildcats have won the last three regular season titles, he has now won the last three Coach of the Year awards.
All five of Jay Wright's BIG EAST Coach of the Year awards have impressively come since the 2005-06 season, and he now has broken out of the previous three-way tie for the most all-time, having been evened up with former UConn Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun and Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim.
Meanwhile, Willard gets the split honor after having a great season on the sidelines. Seton Hall is likely headed to the NCAA Tournament after a 10-year absence and this comes after many did not expect the Pirates to do much of anything in preseason polls and predictions.
This is Willard's first-ever Coach of the Year honor in his career.
Rapid reaction on the way, but congratulations are in order for Wright and Willard. Congrats, coaches.
RAPID REACTION: I'm very surprised at this.
This feels like a copout. Often times we see that the best coaches never win Coach of the Year awards. The BIG EAST has perhaps gotten this right the last two seasons with Wright nabbing the award in back-to-back years after Villanova led the league standings in consecutive seasons. One could argue Ed Cooley was the rightful winner, but certainly there was a case to be made for Wright. A strong one at that.
This time around, I'm not so certain about the BIG EAST's decision here and I'm not sure what eats at me the most. Perhaps it's the fact that they played both sides of the fence: They had the split between the coach of the best team and the coach of the most surprising team.
What's the problem with that? You ignore the fact that Chris Mack did a sensational job on the sidelines this year with Xavier, a team that wasn't included in the preseason Top 25 and wound up nearing the Top 5, and also had one of their best seasons in program history.
Lest we leave out the fact that Mack won the USBWA's National Coach of the Year Award on Wednesday. Talk about awkward timing.
It's unsurprising as it is formulaic that Willard picks up the honor. I don't necessarily have a problem with that. Hell, I wrote a case for him on Wednesday morning. Let's look at Reason No. 1:
1. Surprise, surprise
Love it or not, typically "Coach of the Year" awards are reserved for the coach whose team surprises the most. While many expected Villanova and Xavier to be premier teams in the conference this season, along with Butler as well, Seton Hall was not on many a radar. The turmoil of last year added a bit of weariness to many's thoughts on The Hall and thus they were not expected to do much.
Well, in turn, all the Pirates did was finish third in the BIG EAST, net at least 22 wins for the first time since the early 1990s, and likely will get back to the NCAA Tourney for the first time in a decade. It's not as if they overachieved either. Seton Hall is very talented, but you have to give credit to Willard for helping wipe the slate clean from the disastrous finish they had to their 2014-15 season.
Willard and Wright are certainly deserving candidates but the BIG EAST got this wrong. Chris Mack should be the BIG EAST Coach of the Year, and that's all I've got to say about that.