Wright on retirement: Usual ‘edge’ wasn’t there
1: 08 PM ET
Myron MedcalfESPN Staff Writer
- Covers college basketball
- Joined ESPN.com in 2011
- Graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato
Before he made the decision to retire after 21 seasons as men’s basketball coach at Villanova, Jay Wright said he lacked the same “edge” this season that he had enjoyed in the past, he said Friday.
During his retirement news conference, which also featured new head coach Kyle Neptune, Wright said there were moments before practices and workouts when he had to give himself a pep talk.
And then he remembered what he’d always told his players: “You’re either 100 percent in or you’re against us. “
That’s when Wright, 60, knew it was time to retire after a Hall of Fame career that included two national championships, eight Big East regular-season titles, a gold medal as an assistant for the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team last summer and 642 victories — of which 520 came with the Wildcats.
“During this season, it started to hit me,” an emotional Wright said about his decision, his voice breaking multiple times. “I began to look at my coaching. Everyone was in place: our staff, our team. We wanted to leave it in a better position than when we found it. We wanted it to be strong, in a great place when we left.
” I felt like I didn’t have the edge I had always had. So I began to evaluate it. “
Wright said he’d considered retirement for a few years but made the final decision prior to his team’s run to the Final Four. He didn’t tell his team because he wanted answers for his players about the future.
Although he’d originally planned to tell his players at a team banquet Thursday, Wright had to tell them Wednesday night after reports had circulated about his decision.
He stated that he had spoken to school officials before telling his players. He wanted to help them transition and keep the program together after a change. Wright stated that he knew it would be his last run in New Orleans, when Mike Krzyzewski asked him about his imminent retirement. This created awkward moments for him.
” I’m thinking, “I know exactly what his thinking about,” Wright said of Krzyzewski. “But I didn’t want to say anything. There were times like these. “
Wright said the current climate of college basketball, which now includes the transfer portal and name, image and likeness licensing deals, played a small role in his decision. However, he realized that Villanova needed a new voice to move forward.
” I think these changes are eventually going to really be good for college basketball,” Wright stated. “I was so impressed by how we handled NIL as an entire team. Some of our guys made a lot of money. They had 3.8 GPAs, and they made it to the Final Four. There is another side to it where… [Neptune and our younger assistants], are at a higher level than me when I talk about that stuff. They are very visionary about it. And I feel like I’m trying to keep up with them. We felt that this was a good time. “
Wright said he knew Neptune, a former assistant on his staff who led Fordham to a 16-16 record this season — 14 more wins than the previous season — was the right pick for the job, and that has also made him more comfortable with this decision. Wright stated that Kyle was a head-coaching veteran. “We knew it was going be one of our guys. I think he was ready to leave the Fordham job last year. “
Wright said he’s not sure what he’ll do next, but he does plan to stay active at Villanova and attend games. Wright said that after a memorable ride that raised the brand of Villanova and the Big East, he will leave knowing that the Wildcats can continue to enjoy the success they have enjoyed over the past few years.
” The greatest thing for us was just to be the coach of Villanova,” Wright stated before he took a moment to reflect. “Academies or winning games are not as important as being the coach at Villanova. We’ve been a part of a great tradition and we’ve been blessed to be the head of that tradition for 21 years. We have always maintained that we don’t own it. We just got to be in charge for 21 years. “
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.