Before deciding to retire after 21 seasons of men’s basketball coaching at Villanova, Jay Wright lacked the same “advantage” this season that he has enjoyed in the past, he said Friday.
During his retirement press conference, which also featured new coach Kyle Neptune, Wright said there were moments before rehearsals and exercises when he had to give himself an impassioned talk.
Then he remembered what he always said to his players: “Either you are with us 100 percent or you are against us.”
That was when Wright, 60, realized it was time to retire after a career in the Hall of Fame that included two national championships, eight regular season titles in the Big East, a gold medal as an assistant for the U.S. Olympic basketball team last summer and 642 victories. Of these, 520 came with Wildcats.
“During this season, it’s starting to hit me,” Wright said emotional about his decision, his voice breaking multiple times. “I started looking at my training ground. Everyone is in place: our crew, the team. We wanted to leave this in a better place than we found it. And we wanted it to be strong and in a great position when left.
“I’m starting to feel like I don’t have the advantage I’ve always had as the edge has been natural to me, so I started evaluating it.”
Wright said he considered retiring for a few years but made the final decision before his team moved to the Final Four. He didn’t tell the team because he wanted to get answers to his players about what would happen next.
Although he had originally planned to tell his players at a team banquet on Thursday, Wright had to tell them Wednesday night after reports circulated about his decision.
He said he told school officials before he told his players because he wanted to help them transition and keep the program and staff together once the change was made. When Mike Krzyowski was asked about his impending retirement in New Orleans at Final Four, Wright said he also knew this would be his last tour, which created some awkward moments for him.
“I’m thinking, ‘I know exactly what he’s thinking,'” Wright said of Krzyzewski. ‘But I didn’t want to say anything. But there have been some strange times like this.”
Wright said the current college basketball climate, which now includes portal transfers and name-and-image-licensing deals, played a small role in his decision. But the changes also made him see that Villanova needed a new voice as the school progressed.
“I think these changes are going to be really beneficial for college basketball,” Wright said. “I am really impressed with the way we treated NIL as a team. Some of our guys made really good money. They had a 3.8 GPA and went to the final 4th. But there is an aspect of that where… [Neptune and our younger assistants] On another level than me when it comes to these things. They really have a vision for that. And I feel like I’m the coach trying to keep up. It affected us as we felt it was the right time.”
Wright said he knew Neptune, the former assistant on his side who led Fordham to a record 16-16 this season – 14 more wins than the previous season – was the right choice for the job, and that also made him more comfortable. with this decision.
“We knew with Kyle… Kyle has coaching experience,” Wright said. “We knew he was going to be one of our guys. I think in the year before he left I kind of saw he was ready to go and then he stayed another year and got the Fordham job.”
Wright said he is not sure what he will do next, but plans to stay active at Villanova and attend matches. After a magical, trademark ride for the entire Villanova and Big East program, Wright said he would leave knowing the Wildcats are equipped to maintain the success they have enjoyed in recent years.
“The greatest thing for us has always been to be a coach at Villanova,” Wright said before stopping to pick himself up. “Awards or winning matches isn’t as big as being the coach at Villanova. We’ve been part of a great tradition and we’ve been blessed to be the head of that tradition for 21 years. We’ve always said, ‘We don’t have this.’ We just had to take the reins for 21 years.”