The greatest era in Villanova basketball is coming to an end, sooner than anybody saw coming.
Multiple reports on Wednesday night from some of the most connected reporters in college basketball, including John Fanta (Fox & Big East Digital Network), Shams Charania (The Athletic), Jeff Goodman (Stadium) and Jon Rothstein (CBS Sports) have indicated that Jay Wright is set to retire as the Wildcats’ head men’s basketball coach. Villanova later confirmed it in a press release.
Jay Wright (above) is retiring after 21 seasons at Villanova. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Fordham coach Kyle Neptune, who spent eight years as a Villanova assistant, will succeed Wright. Neptune just finished his first year at Fordham, leading the Rams to a 16-16 record.
Just 60 years old, Wright was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year, three years after leading Villanova to its third national championship.
In his 21 years on the Main Line, Wright took Villanova from an already-successful program and elevated it to be one of the modern blue bloods, an absolute juggernaut of a program over the last decade. Villanova’s made it to the last 10 NCAA Tournaments (including the canceled 2020 tournament), winning it all in 2016 and 2018, the program’s second and third national titles.
Wright is set to transition to a new role as special assistant to the president, according to the release, in which Wright “will be involved in fundraising, advising, education and more.”
"Over the past 21 seasons, I have had the opportunity to live out a professional dream as the head coach at Villanova," Wright said in the release. "Patty and I have been blessed to work with incredible, gifted young men who allowed us to coach them and brought us unmatched joy. We cannot overstate our gratitude to the players, coaches, and administrators who have been with us on this path. It has been an honor and a privilege to work at Villanova, especially under Father Peter and (director of athletics) Mark Jackson.
“Now, though, it's time for us to enter a new era of Villanova Basketball. After 35 years in coaching, I am proud and excited to hand over the reins to a member of our basketball family, Kyle Neptune. I am excited to remain a part of Villanova and look forward to working with Father Peter, Mark and the rest of the leadership team. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat."
Whether it was Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl or most recently Collin Gillespie leading the way, the Wildcats were widely known for their unselfish team play, their propensity to win tight games, their ability to not flinch under pressure. That all came from the detailed, minutiae-driven process set by Wright and carried out by everybody in the program.
"He created a culture in which everyone who was involved believed in him so much that everybody was willing to put the program and the culture before anything," said Ashley Howard, an assistant under Wright from 2013-18 before running the La Salle program the last four years. "And when you have somebody that can get a group of people that can continually believe in the buy-in to the program and to him, I think that’s the mark of a remarkable leader, and that’s what Coach is, man.”
Howard, who said he'd never discussed retirement with Wright in any way while he was an assistant there, said he started hearing some rumblings towards the end of the season -- “it was never like, 'coach is retiring this year,' just 'not sure how much longer he’s going to do this.' Which is, in all honesty, to be expected.”
Wright finishes his time at Villanova with a 510-197 (.725) record, going 642-282 (.695) overall in 27 seasons between Hofstra (1994-01). His last game was an 81-65 loss to Kansas in the Final Four on April 2.
There's been significant NBA interest in Jay Wright through the years, but sources tell ESPN that his intention is to retire from coaching --- not only Villanova. Those who've talked to Wright don't believe the NBA holds appeal to him -- not now, or in future.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 20, 2022
Michigan assistant coach Phil Martelli, Wright’s longtime Big 5 rival as the head coach at Saint Joseph’s from 1995-2019, said he’d last spoken with Wright by text around the Final Four, a week after Villanova beat Michigan in the Sweet 16, but that there was no indication that Wright was considering stepping down.
“I’m shocked. I’m shocked,” Martelli said. “Because he’s so young, like not just chronologically young, he’s young at heart, he gives everything to…I’ll say it this way. There’s a lot of guys that take the title ‘coach,’ there are very few that actually embody the title of coach, and Jay Wright does. From the outside looking in, it’s perfect. And if it is true, then it speaks volumes about him, his value system, because it will be a family decision.”
Wright, a Council Rock North graduate, played at Bucknell from 1979-83 and got his start coaching as an assistant at D-III Rochester (N.Y). The husband of Patty Wright and father of his three kids — Reilly, Taylor and Colin — Wright had stops at Drexel, Villanova and UNLV before his first head coaching gig at Hofstra in 1994. According to Charania, his decision to retire is “based largely to wanting to [sic] spend more time with his family.”
Wright succeeded Steve Lappas at Villanova, and over the past two decades has been one of the top coaches in college basketball, winning AP Coach of the Decade in the 2010s. During Wright’s tenure with the Wildcats he amassed a 67-13 record in the Big 5, going on a city record 22-game winning streak, and won the round-robin competition 14 times.
During Wright’s time at Villanova he coached consensus All-Americans Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Scottie Reynolds, Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson. Brunson, a three year starter with the Wildcats, won every National Player of the Year award in 2018. Gillespie, the most recent of Villanova’s star guards, won the 2022 Bob Cousey award given to the nation’s top point guard.
Since Wright arrived at Villanova, six Wildcats players have gone on to win Big East Player of the Year. In conference play, Wright went 244–123, winning the regular season eight times and coming out on top in the Big East Tournament five times.
“His legacy is already cemented, he’s a Hall-of-Famer,” Martelli said. “He’s a Hall of Famer [in the] Naismith, Hall of Famer, obviously Big 5. He’s just a Hall of Fame guy. There’s 350 jobs in America, but you can count on one hand the perfect jobs. The perfect job with the perfect guy. Villanova has the perfect guy, and Villanova’s the perfect place for Jay Wright.”