Given all the answers to all the questions he was asked during the NCAA tournament about how much he liked leading the basketball team at Villanova, Jay Wright gave the distinct impression that he’s ready to remain on the job for the rest of his coaching life.
NBA teams, however, will pursue him anyway, seeking to convince him that he would be the right man to undertake the challenge of the next level and effectively tackle the rebuild of a franchise. Plus, they will be offering salary proposals that include a lot of zeroes.
Still, Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson is ever alert. He knows the offers are going to come. But he says he owns a “very strong” relationship with Wright.
“I think you need to recognize that he’s one of the top coaches in the country, across any sport or any platform,” said Jackson — who is in his third season at ’Nova — on Wednesday. “You want to be as competitive as you possibly can be on all fronts to make sure he’s supported, and the program is supported, for long-term success.
“I think for me, like any relationship, it starts with transparency and I think we have a lot of that between the two of us. We have a lot of conversations about things that he needs, both for him and the program. There’s a constant dialogue between the two of us about how we stay razor-sharp with this program to allow us to compete with the best programs in the country.”
Wright, 56, became the winningest coach in program history this season, finishing with 422 career wins. He has averaged 33 victories over the past five seasons, during which his team has captured four regular-season and three tournament championships in the Big East. The Wildcats’ 79-62 win over Michigan in Monday night’s national championship game was their 36th, their most in a single season.
“I just have the best job in the country, my hometown, my wife’s alma mater, my favorite team growing up,” Wright, who grew up in Churchville, Bucks County, said after the title contest.
“I’ve got a great president and a great AD, Father Peter [Donahue] and Mark Jackson. I just love going to work every day. Our guys graduate. You see these kids are great kids to coach. As a coach, there’s just nothing better.”
Wright, who earns nearly $2.6 million annually at Villanova, was a target of the Phoenix Suns after winning the 2016 championship. At least five NBA openings — including the Suns — will be available once the current season ends, and Wright is an attractive option because of his ability to develop players and run an offense that fits with the current NBA style.
“I think he made it clear post-game [Monday night] that he’s in a good situation here,” Jackson said. “He understands the value of Villanova beyond basketball and what it means to him and his family.
“But at the same time, he’s a competitive guy that has done an unbelievable job and he’s going to garner a lot of attention. So I think it’s something we’ll always talk about, but as our relationship has gotten stronger over the last three seasons, it’s a much easier conversation between the two of us to have. There isn’t a day that goes by that we’re not in some form of communication.”
Jackson added that communication also concerns how the program can stay competitive with the best programs in the country.
“I think the game is always changing,” he said. “You’re always bench-marking not only against the elite college programs but you pay attention to what the NBA is doing and where technology takes you, where facilities take you. You’re paying attention to how the rules change with the NCAA to make sure we’re taking advantage of ways we can improve student-athlete welfare. So there’s a myriad of ways that we need to be vigilant to always improve our flagship program.”