Jay Wright retires as Villanova men’s basketball coach

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College basketball lost another highly decorated head coach to retirement, this time in stunning fashion, when Jay Wright announced Wednesday he was stepping down from that position at Villanova.

The 60-year-old Wright, who is coming off a Final Four run with the Wildcats, said in a statement that he was “proud and excited to hand over the reins to Villanova’s next coach.” The school announced it had hired Kyle Neptune, who spent many years as an assistant to Wright at Villanova before a one-year stint this past season as head coach at Fordham.

Wright said Wednesday that he will continue to have a role with Villanova, which the school said would include fundraising and advising. “Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat,” he wrote.

Wright added that he had lived out “a professional dream” by leading the Wildcats for 21 seasons. Over that span, they won two national titles and reached the Final Four on two other occasions. Since 2016, Villanova has notched an unmatched 20 victories in the NCAA tournament against only four losses, and this season saw Wright post his fifth 30-win season in the past eight years. He is the winningest coach in Wildcats history and was named the Associated Press men’s college basketball coach of the decade in 2020.

“He has really achieved it all and done it all with class,” Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey told ESPN. “It’s a big loss for the college game.”

Brey and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim told ESPN they were surprised at the announcement of Wright’s retirement. Other voices in the world of college basketball shared stunned reactions, in part because of Wright’s relatively young age for such a decision.

“We would like to start by expressing our immense gratitude to Jay Wright for his incredible leadership of Villanova Men’s Basketball for the past 21 years,” the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, the school’s president, said in a joint statement with Athletic Director Mark Jackson. “He has led our storied program with class, humility and grace, leaving an indelible impact on this community.”

Of the 37-year-old Neptune, Jackson said, “When looking for a successor, we wanted a candidate who could navigate the changing landscape of collegiate athletics and keep Villanova in a position of strength – now and in the future. After meeting with several exceptional candidates, we found all those attributes and more in Kyle Neptune. Kyle quickly stood out for her basketball knowledge, recruiting savvy and natural ability to connect with student-athletes and coaches. ”

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“Kyle was a part of our staff for 10 years, helped us win two national titles and returns after a successful season [at Fordham]”Wright tweeted Wednesday evening. “He understands our culture and will keep it strong.”

Wright attained an overall record of 520-197 for a sterling winning percentage of .725 at Villanova. Before taking over the Wildcats’ program in 2001, he went 122-85 over seven seasons at Hofstra. Wright’s combined 642 wins are the 48th most in Division I men’s basketball history.

At the top of that list is Mike Krzyzewski (1,202 wins), who announced before this past season that it would be his last at Duke after 42 seasons and who then finished the much-covered campaign by joining Wright in the Final Four. The fifth-winning coach is Roy Williams (903), who retired last year after 33 seasons at Kansas and North Carolina.

Asked at the Final Four, amid all the attention being paid to Krzyzewski’s final moments as a coach, if he was contemplating retirement, Wright told the Athletic: “I would be lying if I tell you I don’t – you think about it after each year; you think about where your life is, what are you going to do. It’s difficult to think about. And again, I think about it because there’s going to be a time when it’s time for the next coach at Villanova. There’s going to have to be that time. You have to pick that time. ”

A Pennsylvania native, Wright was a 6-foot-3 guard at Bucknell who began his coaching career in Division III at the University of Rochester in 1984. He went on to a stint as an assistant at Villanova, as well as at Drexel and UNLV , before getting hired as Hofstra’s head coach in 1994. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

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