VILLANOVA, Pa. (CBS) – Jay Wright did his best to keep his emotions attuned as he formally announced his retirement as Villanova's basketball coach. He was joined by his successor, Kyle Neptune, Villanova President Father Peter Donohue, and 'Nova athletic director Mark Jackson.
"Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat. Patti and I will be part of this community forever," Wright said.
It was just a few weeks ago that the Villanova Wildcats were knocking on the doorstep of a third national championship under Wright, which left many jaws dropped when news broke of his retirement Wednesday night.
"What Patty and I want this to be is the next step in the Villanova basketball program," Wright said. "The greatest thing for us has always been just to be the coach at Villanova. That's accolades or, you know, winning games, it's not as big as just being the coach at Villanova. So 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've always said, 'We don't own this, you know, we just got to be in charge for 21 years.'"
The announcement was one 'Nova nation, and most of the sports world was not ready for.
"Thank you, Coach, for everything you have done for our University, community & the game of basketball," Villanova's men's basketball program wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
Wright took over as Villanova's head coach in 2001 and led the Wildcats to two national championships, four Final Four appearances and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. The 60-year-old was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame last year.
During his 21-year tenure as 'Nova's head coach, Wright won 520 games with a .725 winning percentage. The Wildcats were 30-8 in 2022 and made it to the Final Four as a 2 seed before losing 81-65 to the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks. Wright also recorded 16 20 win seasons and was named National Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2016.
It was sometime at the end of the 2021-22 regular season Wright says he realized he didn't "have the edge" and that he talked with his wife and Marc Jackson about his intent to retire at the end of the season.
While he "may have not been on top of his game," he says his staff gave him comfort to know this program would be okay, many of those coaches will be staying with the team.
The hardest part after making the decision to retire? He says it was looking at his players and not being able to tell them during the season.
Competing in games and running practices are factors Wright says he will miss most about coaching, but he is looking forward to strengthening his relationships with the players.
"Kind of what I'm excited about, and I talked to some of the guys about this. I love the relationship with players. It felt like the last few years energy levels were committed to basketball and recruiting and NIL and not relationships with the players," Wright said. "If they'll still talk to me I look forward to going to breakfast with these guys, going to lunch."
Wright had the magic touch in making a difference and impacting his players' lives. From the basketball court to their personal lives, he coached them to be the best versions of themselves.
"As we like to say he did things the (W)right way; guiding, developing, and empowering the student-athletes who played for him not only to be better on the basketball court but also in their personal lives," Villanova President Father Peter Donohue said. "It's these characteristics that I believe will define Jay's legacy at Villanova University and made Villanova a better university in the process. Big shoes to fill and no one is better suited to the challenge than Kyle Neptune."
Wright's legacy at Villanova runs deeper than being a head coach. He and his wife, Patti, are heavily involved in the Radnor community, which earned him the nickname "Mr. Main Line."
Villanova's new head coach Kyle Neptune served as an assistant coach under Jay Wright, making him the perfect man for the job.
"Having one of our own, a guy that's been with us 10 years, in Kyle Neptune be able to take over is what our dream was, to leave it better than we found it and the leadership that we have on this team next year, this is going to be a really good team," Wright said.
Neptune's coaching career began under Wright in 2008, serving as a video coordinator for the Wildcats. He was also on staff for Villanova's 2009 Final Four appearance before leaving for an assistant coaching job at Niagara for three seasons.
Neptune came back to Villanova in 2013 and served as an assistant on Wright's staff before being named Fordham's head coach in 2021. Fordham finished 16-16 in Neptune's lone season as head coach.
After one season, Neptune returns to Villanova and takes over for Wright.
"We're very proud of what we did but most importantly it's about going forward," Wright said. "What we're most proud of is look at these guys down here. These guys are ready to take this program forward and what we wanted to do is make sure that when this program moves forward, we do it from a position of strength and that's what's so exciting about today."
So what's next for Wright? 'Nova nation doesn't have to worry because he won't be going far.
Wright will be serving as a mentor to the Villanova community moving forward.
"We're keeping this together and that's what it's all about," Wright said. "We're going to be a part of it and I thank Father and Justin and Mark for allowing us to remain a part of this and just take on a new role with supporting this mission, supporting the Augustinians, and watching this basketball program grow as just supports and kind of mentors to the guys that are here."
CBS3 reporter Alicia Roberts and digital producer Alyssa Adams contributed to this report.
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