Jay Wright, you will not be surprised to learn, is a meticulous fellow. From the square of color folded into the breast pocket of his suit jacket, to the daily regimen of coaching the Villanova basketball team, to the very path of his professional life, Wright does not act without careful consideration of details both large and very small.
When the schedule came out last week for the Wildcats’ second-round game against Alabama, a late-night announcement that Villanova would be playing the first game of the day, just after noon in Pittsburgh, Wright immediately sent out a text to the staff. Practice on the intervening off-day would be a light walk-through only. No ankles taped.
Other coaches might have saved that decision for the morning. Some might not even have considered changing their plan. But Wright wanted to keep his team fresh for the early start and – sure it’s a small thing – but players go harder when their ankles have been taped, like race horses that have been saddled, and, plus, it would save the training staff the time and effort of doing the taping. Just being considerate. So, yes, it was after midnight, but the text went out because the man doesn’t miss much.
It is the time of year during which, once again, it is fair to wonder how long Wright will choose to keep the job he has had for 17 seasons now. He deflects that sort of talk, of course, particularly as he and the team are concentrating on advancing from the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. He loves his job. He has the best job in the world. He’s thinking about only the task at hand.
All three of those things are true enough, but also true is that Wright has thought about the future, because he thinks about everything. He is 56 now, and the last of his three children has left home for college. If he were to try something else, the timing is getting short, and timing would be everything for that kind of move.
It might be that Wright would be happy retiring as the coach of Villanova, although the halfway point of that tenure has long passed. Should Wright remain for as long as he has already been there, he would retire after the 2034-35 season at 73 years old. Unlikely. He could go until he was, say, 65, more than a quarter-century at the school, and the program he built would no doubt hum along smoothly, with good years and great years, and maybe the occasional disappointment.
In Philadelphia, his successes would be cheered and his failures largely ignored, and Wright has been around long enough to know that’s a pretty good deal. It doesn’t work that way in Lexington or Chapel Hill or Columbus. It would be a safe and smart decision, but would it satisfy a driven man who might want to test the boundaries of his ability?
That’s for Wright to determine and he probably already made that calculation. It might not necessarily be about money, although a one-contract dip into the NBA, with his resume, his personality, and his ability to provide the face of a franchise, would earn him in five years what would take three times that long at his current rate. He isn’t poorly paid — $2.5 million per year – but he’s also the 24th-best-paid coach in the NCAA tournament, according to a USA Today survey.
As for timing, he has given five years to the new Big East and more than done his part to launch the league. One national championship, obviously, but now a return to the Sweet 16. The Wildcats have gone 161-21 in those five seasons, carrying the banner for Big East respect.
He would also, even if both Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson exit for the pros, leave the team in good shape. There is a strong incoming class of freshmen, and the core of Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman, and Eric Paschall would give the next coach plenty of material.
There is also that — the next coach. Wright’s coaching tree would suggest a number of candidates with strong ties to Villanova, men who would change very little about the way things are done. The favorite would probably be Baker Dunleavy, who played for Wright and coached under him for seven years before taking the head-coaching job at Quinnipiac. But there are also Billy Lange, now an assistant with the Sixers; Ashley Howard, currently on the staff and being mentioned for other openings; and, if you want a long shot, a return by Pat Chambers, who was the associate head coach for five years before taking the Penn State job.
Any of those would fit the role like hand in glove, even if it would take a while before the new guy perfected the effortless lambskin and cashmere style of his predecessor. As if.
There’s only one Jay Wright, and both Villanova and Philadelphia have been lucky to have him for 17 seasons. Perhaps the luck will stretch to the finish line. That’s always a possibility, although it feels incongruous given the competitive nature of the guy.
Wright isn’t saying, but you can be sure of one thing: He is thinking. He always is.