SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Coach Shaheen Holloway getting the head coaching job at Seton Hall was no surprise at all.
Pirates career assists leader and star of the college coaching scene after taking Cinderella Saint Peter’s to the Elite Eight, he was the only person sporting director Bryan Felt considered after Kevin Willard left for the job in Maryland 10 days ago.
If there was a surprise on Thursday as Holloway was ushered into a small crowd of around 1,000 at the Walsh Gymnasium, all 15 players from his uplifting Saint Peter squad were in the audience to cheer him on.
“That says a lot about Shaheen,” Felt said of the Peacocks coming to celebrate their former coach. “That says a lot about him. That says a lot. What he pours out, he gets back.”
This was Felt’s second time hiring Holloway. He was Saint Peter’s sporting director when Holloway was hired in 2018. Felt took over the job from Seton Hall in 2019 and re-hired Holloway on Wednesday.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Peacocks became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight. Their path to the Final Four was halted on Sunday in a 69-49 loss to North Carolina.
“I wouldn’t be here without these 15 young men,” Holloway said shortly after being introduced. It was a remark that sparked the second of three standing ovations the Peacocks received. The first was when they entered.
Holloway said he spoke with the Peacocks for three hours on Wednesday, just before Seton Hall announced his hiring. He said it was extremely difficult to leave the program he led for four seasons. He said the players made it easy for him, even teasing the 45-year-old who spent eight seasons as a Pirates assistant coach.
Replacing Willard, Holloway returns to a Big East program that has appeared in five of the last six NCAA tournaments. It would have been six out of seven had the pandemic not canceled the 2020 event.
Holloway, whose Peacocks beat Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, said he would return Saint Peter’s to the Pirates program after a four-year absence. He also went out of his way to say how important it was to him to get this job.
“I can’t spoil this and I’m not going to spoil this,” he said. “When you’re home, it’s too important. It’s a difference. It’s a big difference, like you put in more time, more effort, more sweat, more tears. It’s anything to get the opportunity to coach at my alma mater. I’m not going to waste this opportunity.”
Holloway said he walked around the Walsh Gym on Wednesday night and it brought back a ton of memories.
“I’m blessed, I’m humbled,” he said. “It’s amazing to me,” Holloway said.
Holloway said he has felt exhausted and drained over the past two weeks. The emotional burden came to a head on Sunday when her grandmother, Dorothy Holloway, died. She raised him.
She had told him that she wanted to be buried at Seton Hall and Holloway will try to fulfill her wish.
His wish is to improve the Pirates program.
“I want to level up, you always want to level up,” Holloway said. “It’s going to be hard work. It’s going to be tough.”
Looking at the Seton Hall players in the audience, Holloway told them to get ready to work.
Seton Hall junior striker Tyrese Samuel says Holloway is probably the most talked about coach in the country right now, and he’s looking forward to working with him. He added that Holloway’s success would put pressure on the Pirates.
“Oh yes,” Samuel said. “I think as a player I think you just want to pick up where he left off. You know he took a great team, Saint Peter’s, into the Elite Eight and he comes here trying to do the same. . There is no time to rest.”
Holloway said he hoped to have a say in finding his replacement at Saint Peter’s, but added athletic director Rachelle Paul will do a good job.
Peacock guard Doug Edert – with his distinctive mustache – was happy to see Holloway rewarded. Holloway will likely earn nearly $2.5 million a year at Seton Hall, about 10 times what he earned at the Jesuit school in Jersey City, New Jersey, less than 20 miles away.
“We are all happy for him and for everything he has done,” Edert said. “It’s awesome.”
This is how Holloway described his return to Seton Hall.
Holloway stood out for four years at Seton Hall from 1996-2000 and helped lead the team to the Sweet 16 in 2000. He hit the game-winning layup in overtime to defeat Oregon in the first round. He was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.