Jay Wright, Hall of Famer Villanova Basketball Coach, Retires

Jay Wright’s legendary victory in Villanova has come to an end.

After announcing his retirement on Wednesday after 21 seasons with Villanova, Wright, 60, is leaving the college men’s basketball team at a relatively young age and at the peak of his career. Last year, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He has won two Division I national championships in the past seven seasons. And he was the fifth highest paid coach by total salary last season, according to the USA TODAY Sports salary database, of over $6 million.

Wright, whose look and style has been compared to actor George Clooney, has led Villanova to four Final Four wins and five Big Eastern Conference titles over the past 14 seasons. Most recently, he led the Wildcats to the Final Four this year, where they lost to eventual national champion Kansas in the national semi-finals.

Head coach since 1994, Wright set a 642-282 (.695) record during his career at Hofstra and Villanova, where he has coached since 2001.

The university announced that Kyle Neptune, 37, will succeed Wright at Villanova. A longtime assistant to Wright before leaving to coach Fordham, Neptune compiled a 16-16 record in 2021-22, his only year with the Rams. With the addition of Neptune and Shaheen Holloway to Seton Hall, the Big East now has seven African American head coaches among its 11 programs, more than any Power 5 conference, and is in line with the American Athletic Conference. Fordham appointed assistant head coach Keith Urgo as interim head coach and said he would conduct a nationwide search for a replacement for Neptune.

Wright will remain in Villanova and will be involved in fundraising, education and counseling.

“Patty and I have been fortunate to work with incredible, gifted young people who have allowed us to coach them and brought us unparalleled joy,” Wright said, referring to his wife. “We cannot overstate our gratitude to the players, coaches and administrators who have been with us along the way.”

Wright becomes the third high-profile Division I men’s basketball coach to retire in the past two years, after Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who retired after reaching the Final Four this year, and North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who retired after the 2020-21 season. . Wright is significantly younger than both of these men. Krzyzewski is 75 and Williams was 70 when he retired.

Krzyzewski has won five national championships while Williams has won three. Before retiring, Wright’s two titles tied him with Bill Self of Kansas among current coaches. Iona’s Rick Pitino won titles in Kentucky and Louisville, but the latter, won in 2013, was later vacated by the NCAA.

“I’m definitely surprised,” Williams, whose Tar Heels lost to Villanova in the 2016 NCAA Championship Game on a last-second three-pointer from Chris Jenkins, said in a phone interview.

He added, “Jay is only 60 years old and has a lot more time to play but I love it because he made the decision that was right for him and his family and I can live with that. Jay is one of the giants of our game, he’s a great friend.”

Williams recalled that after Villanova stunned North Carolina 77–74 to win the title in Houston, Williams waited for Villanova’s players and coaches to congratulate Wright before he faced Wright.

“I told him: “I am very happy for you. I am broken for my team, but very happy for you,” Williams said. “And Jay called me back a couple of days later and told me how much it meant to him. And he’s a great guy. He is one of the giants of our game.”

When the original iteration of the Big East collapsed in 2013 as universities with top-tier football programs like Syracuse, Louisville, Connecticut, and West Virginia left for other leagues, Wright helped keep the “new Big East” together: he brought coaches together under his leadership. with the vision of creating a basketball league that could compete with the Power 5 schools that feature both basketball and football.

“Obviously he was amazing,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said in a phone interview. “His leadership when the Big East was kind of reformed is, I think, the reason the league is where it is today. He was completely confident from the beginning that it would work and was definitely a big part of it.”

Wright retires as two of his most experienced players, Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, retired after five years due to an extra year of eligibility given to athletes by the NCAA after the pandemic. He praised both players after losing to Kansas at the end of the season.

“At Villanova, the mission of the university is about community, love and truth,” Wright said. He added of Gillespie: “He is a man from Villanova. He’s a great man from Villanova. And that’s a big part of our program. This is not just a basketball player, but a man from Villanova. And he’s one of the best ever.”

If Gillespie, a two-time Big East Player of the Year, continues to play in the NBA next season, he will become the league’s 10th active former Villanova player. The group includes Miami’s Kyle Lowry, a six-time All-Star; Jalen Brunson of Dallas, who scored 41 points in this week’s playoff game; and Mikal Bridges of Phoenix, Defensive Player of the Year finalist.

A testament to the development of players under Wright and his team is that no current Villanova NBA player has been flawless.

“Everyone should applaud what they built there,” Self said ahead of the Final Four. “And, of course, Jay is the head of this arena. They need to be beaten, they don’t beat themselves.”

Wright, known for his stylish evening suits for years, liked not to wear them casually during the pandemic, and instead wore three-quarter zippers and sweatpants. At the Final Four, he said he didn’t bring a single suit with him for the trip to New Orleans.

With retirement approaching, Wright won’t have to wear a suit anytime soon.