He is in a new neighborhood and he is not sure how to handle it. But no one who has worked with Jay Wright or knows the Villanova men’s basketball coach is worried.
Wright needed to make the right move, say the right thing, at the right time. Which he did again on Monday night as Villanova rolled to it second national championship in three years after posting a 79-61 victory over Michigan in San Antonio. With the win, Wright moved into an exclusive club of coaches who have won multiple national championships.
Among the active coaches only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (5) and North Carolina’s Roy Williams (3) have won multiple national championships. In the history of the sport, there have been only 13 coaches who have won more than a single national title. A Villanova win against Michigan will give Wright two in the last three seasons.
Jay Wright is a rock star, who dresses better than he coaches.
Yes, it is different for Wright now. He’s no longer the bright young coach who started at Hofstra, began with three straight losing seasons and a concern that is dream to be a Division 1 head coach would not get out of the starting gate. The “”kid”” from Council Rock High School 13 miles from Philadelphia turned 56 on Christmas Eve and has won 544 games, including an astonishing 136 in the last four seasons as Villanova has turned into the most consistent winner in college basketball.
“”What changes is that people look at you differently after you’ve won,” said Wright. “”Mostly positively, but sometimes if you handle it well, they look at you negatively. You just get a lot more attention.”’
The attention, as it should be, has been primarily positive. Villanova has lived up to its status as a No. 1 seed and the second highest rated team in the tournament (behind only Virginia). They strengthened their status with a rout of Kansas in Saturday night’s Final Four semifinals before rolling over Michigan, which had been rising steadily in prestige and is coached by John Beilein, who is more blue collar than blue blood and has known and competed against Wright for more than 30 years.
“”He will still look like George Clooney and I will still look like (Peter Falk as Lt.) Columbo,” joked Beilein last week when asked about the perceptions of both men. “”I wanted to say Kevin Costner, but I can’t go there.”
Where both coaches are is at the top rung of the coaching hierarchy, which comes with making it as far as the Final Four.
When asked if it was a dream come true to come into the national championship game for the second time in three seasons, Wright tried to downplay the significance for a specific reason. “”You can’t say it’s a dream come true because you don’t dream about it” said Wright. “”You don’t dream about getting to the Final Four twice in three years. You don’t think about it. I don’t. When you get there, you realize it’s harder than you thought.”’
What Wright did dream about was coaching in the Big East for his favorite team as a child (Villanova). “”To be able to do it in your hometown, at a school you grew up as a fan, I have the best job in the world.” said Wright.
Wright came back to Villanova (he had a stint as an assistant on Rollie Massamino’s staff) 17 years ago after he had turned Hofstra from a loser into a consistent 20 plus game winning program.
Other schools such as UMass and Rutgers saw a rising star in the coach from Hofstra as well, but couldn’t overcome the prestige of the Big East AND the hometown discount that Villanova offered. Other schools have made runs at Wright the past few years, but it would seem only the NBA now has enough financial power or challenge to entice Wright from his Main line of Philadelphia address.
Wright says his success in the NCAA tournament should not be the defining measuring stick of his ability as a coach.
“”What you do in a tournament is not really a mark of your talent as a coach,” said Wright. “”But you are going to be evaluated on what you do in the tournament.”
So now Wright has a second national championship. He is the leader of the next generation of great college coaches.
So what do you have to say, Jay?
“”When we got to the 2009 Final Four and we lost the first game, I thought that was my shot,” said Wright. “”I was happy. I was fine. Then, when we won the title I thought, alright, I’m happy now. l just want to make sure the guys graduate and the team stays competitive. This (winning a second national championship) is out of my comprehension.”’.