PISCATAWAY, NJ – After nearly three decades of loyal service to Rutgers University and its Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, head softball coach Pat Willis has announced her retirement, effective immediately.
As one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history, Willis has amassed more than 600 victories during her 27-year career as Scarlet Knight head coach, including three 30-win seasons, 20 20-win campaigns and two NCAA Tournament berths (1984, 1994). Following Rutgers’ season-ending doubleheader against South Florida May 7, Willis has compiled a career record of 645-565-8 “On the Banks.”
Over her career, Willis has groomed 50 all-conference honorees and almost 30 all-region selections, including 1998 BIG EAST Player of the Year Angie Catalano, and 1993 All-American Carla Camino, a member of the Rutgers Olympic Sports Hall of Fame. Willis also successfully guided the Scarlet Knights in their transition from the Atlantic 10 Conference to the BIG EAST in 1996. While a member of the Atlantic 10, Rutgers had at least one player earn all-conference honors for 12 consecutive seasons.
In 1981, Rutgers posted a 28-3 record under the leadership of its second-year head coach, winning the Eastern Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (EAIAW) title before advancing to the AIAW College World Series in Oklahoma. In 1984, the second year of membership for RU in the Atlantic 10, the Knights earned their first conference title and reached their first NCAA Tournament, finishing the season with a 22-14 slate.
Beginning in 1993, Willis and Rutgers began a three-year run that saw it win 90 games and the 1994 Atlantic 10 Tournament title, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history. Willis’ 1993 team amassed a school-record 34 wins, including her 350th career victory.
Rutgers softball joined the BIG EAST for the 1996 season, and just one year later the Scarlet Knights earned their first-ever BIG EAST Tournament berth. After making its first appearance in the postseason tournament in 1997, RU returned in 1998 to pick up the school’s first win in a BIG EAST Tournament game.
“Coaching the Rutgers softball team for the past 27 years has been a privilege and a gratifying experience,” said Willis. “I have had the opportunity to teach and mentor many exceptional young women and be involved in a game I love. However, I feel the time is right to close this chapter and move on to other pursuits. I will always carry with me the friendships and memories made during these wonderful years.”
“For 29 years, Pat Willis has faithfully served Rutgers University and its student-athletes, leaving a lasting impression on not only this department, but also on the lives of countless numbers of young people,” said Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Robert E. Mulcahy III. “On behalf of everyone here at Rutgers, I would like to thank Pat for her tireless dedication, and wish her success and happiness as she begins a new chapter in her life.”
Prior to taking over the reins of the softball program in 1980, Willis served as an assistant to head coach Jody Vogt for two seasons.
Willis also worked with the Rutgers women’s basketball program for five seasons (1979-80 through 1983-84) as an assistant coach, helping head coach and eventual Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Theresa Grentz guide the Lady Knights to a 119-37 (.763) record. Rutgers advanced to three straight AIAW National Tournaments (1980-82) during that period, including the 1982 national title, the final AIAW championship to be awarded. During Willis’ final two seasons as a member of the women’s basketball staff, RU became a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, reaching the tournament final in 1983 and the semifinals in 1984.