In professional sports you root for players and teams. In college athletics you root for players and teams, but you also root for coaches and programs. That was definitely the case for me and the Villanova Wildcats.
Jay Wright announced his retirement and the end of his coaching career on Wednesday evening.
If you know me, I’m the biggest Villanova fan you’ll ever meet. Also, my cell phone is also always dead, dying or on the charger. So, I didn’t get the news of Coach Wright’s retirement until a long time after the word had already been spread.
I had mixed reactions when I got the notifications. On one hand: shock, disbelief, wonder and a nervous caution. On the other hand: gratitude, appreciation, an acknowledgement of greatness and more nervous caution.
I mean, Jay Wright is Villanova and Villanova is Jay Wright. He’s been on the Main Line for 21 seasons as the head coach and a handful of campaigns as an assistant under Coach Mass. He’s a lifer. He’s a Wildcat.
And what has Jay Wright done: 2x National Champion, 4x to the Final Four, 8x Big East Regular Season Champion, 5x Big East Tournament Champion, 2x regular season and 2x tournament champion of the American East at Hofstra, 2x Naismith Coach of the Year, NABC Coach of the Year, Wooden Legends of Coaching Award, 6x Big East Coach of the Year, 2x American East Coach of the Year at Hofstra, Associated Press Coach of the Decade in the 2010s, the dude wrote a book, oh yea Hall of Famer.
And what hasn’t Jay Wright done: No major recruiting violations. No FBI probes into the program. No bagmen. No alleged bagmen. No scandals. No academic fraud. No college emissions fraud.
Jay Wright has done it the wright way from the beginning. He just likes to go to Phillies’ games with his golden retrievers. It’s crazy that his player development on the court actually pales in comparison to his personnel development off the court. Jay will be the first to tell you that every four-year member of the basketball program under his tenure has received their college degree. I think he’s prouder of that than any of the accomplishments listed above.
He took 6-foot guards from Bucks County and 7-foot titans from Africa, put them through school, got them their education and won a shit load of college basketball games in the process. Race, religion and socioeconomic status didn’t matter. Coach Wright taught fundamental pump fakes, jump stops and bounce passes to everybody and it worked.
But, today marks the end of his time as the head of the Wildcats. And I get it. He’s 60 years old, although he doesn’t look a day over 44 with a perfect blend of salt and pepper. He has a tight knit family, wife and three kids, and he’s made a decent dollar during his career. I was lucky enough to meet his oldest son Taylor and I would still call us acquaintances. We had our share of battles during “Lunch Time Hoops”, although he was a far superior athlete. I’ve also met Patty on a couple of occasions; she’s an absolute saint.
But now the job is Kyle Neptune’s. I am of the assumption that Jay chose his successor, or at minimum had a large say in the matter. I don’t think there was much backlash from Mark Jackson in that regard. As a quick side note, George Halcovage is going to be a Division I head coach sooner rather than later. I think he’ll be a damn good coach, not if, but when he gets his chance.
I believe in Kyle. I think he can keep ’40 Minutes of Villanova Basketball’ looking the same as it has over the last couple of decades. But I’ll miss Jay Wright. I loved the suits. Maybe not wearing the suits this past season led him to retirement. I’m kidding, but maybe that hot take isn’t as crazy as you think.
No pomp. No circumstance. No glitz. No glamour. No season-long retirement tour by a self-righteous egomaniac. In true Villanova fashion, Jay Wright announced his retirement on a Wednesday evening in April. And I know he’ll give a hell of a parting speech at the men’s basketball banquet tomorrow night. Jay Wright was the epitome of class until the day he hung up his whistle.