Villanova hires former player Denise Dillon as coach

Villanova has hired former Wildcats player Denise Dillon, the coach at fellow Philadelphia school Drexel, to replace Harry Perretta as women's basketball coach.

Perretta retired after 42 seasons and a 783-489 record at the school and was Dillon's coach when she played at Villanova from 1992 to '96 during an All-Big East career. Dillon's longtime assistant at Drexel, Amy Mallon, is taking over the Dragons' head-coaching position.

Dillon had a record of 329-211 in 17 seasons at Drexel, which included winning the 2013 WNIT postseason championship. The Dragons went 23-7 overall this season and tied with James Madison atop the Colonial Athletic Association at 16-2.

Drexel was the No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament, but the event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic before the Dragons were able to play in their quarterfinal game. The pandemic also impacted Dillon's goodbye and hello meetings with her former and new teams, plus her introductory news conference Friday. All of that had to be done online.

"This is obviously not what we're used to in athletics; it's challenging times for all of us," Dillon said, speaking via Zoom from her home in Philadelphia. "It is a chance to really put things in perspective and understand the world we are a part of right now and the seriousness of the health issues."

Dillon began her coaching career right out of college in 1996, working for Perretta as an assistant. She went to Drexel as an assistant in 2001 and took over as head coach in 2003. She hoped one day the time would be right for her to return to her alma mater.

"It's hard to believe I'm in this position to be the successor to the person who started this all for me," Dillon said, and joked that she wouldn't have to move from her home for this new job. "How much I've learned from Harry ... he's so great about helping everybody in the game. I'm from the area, my family is here. There is no better basketball than Philly basketball. There's only one place I would have left Drexel for, and here we are. Villanova is that place."

Villanova was 18-13 in Perretta's final season this year, finishing in a five-way logjam for third in the Big East at 11-7. The Wildcats lost to Marquette in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.

With conference realignments, the Big East has changed since Dillon's playing days in the 1990s. And it will change more next season, as 11-time NCAA champion UConn returns to the Big East after going undefeated in seven seasons in the American Athletic Conference.

"It's a competitive conference with great coaches," Dillon said of the Big East. "UConn returning adds a whole other element; they'll bring that power back. They've got a target [on them], and we're all going after it."