After 21 years as the head men’s basketball coach at Villanova, Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright is stepping down, just weeks after leading the Wildcats to the Final Four.
Wright will start a new job as a special assistant to the university’s president, Villanova announced on Wednesday. Kyle Neptune, who spent ten years as a video coordinator and assistant coach under Wright at Fordham, will take over as Villanova’s head coach.
On Friday morning, Wright, Neptune, and vice president and director of athletics Mark Jackson will hold a press conference.
“Over the past 21 seasons, I have had the opportunity to live out a professional dream as the head coach at Villanova,” Wright said in a statement. “Patty and I have been blessed to work with incredible, gifted young men who allowed us to coach them and brought us unmatched joy. We cannot overstate our gratitude to the players, coaches, and administrators who have been with us on this path. It has been an honor and a privilege to work at Villanova, especially under Father Peter and Mark Jackson.
“Now, though, it’s time for us to enter a new era of Villanova basketball. After 35 years in coaching, I am proud and excited to hand over the reins to Villanova’s next coach. I am excited to remain a part of Villanova and look forward to working with Father Peter, Mark and the rest of the leadership team. Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat.”
Wright, 60, had been the head coach of the Wildcats since 2001. In 2016 and 2018, he won two national titles and appeared in four Final Fours. In 2006 and 2016, he was voted Naismith Coach of the Year, and in 2021, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Wright has been approached about many NBA jobs over the years, but sources told ESPN on Wednesday that he plans to retire from coaching in general, not just at Villanova. Wright has liked his time coaching Team USA under Gregg Popovich in recent years, but insiders say he is losing interest in becoming an NBA head coach. He listened to the overtures, but he never considered leaving Villanova for any of them.
According to insiders, Wright began sharing with close pals on Tuesday night that he was eager to move on to the next phase of his life without coaching.
On Wednesday night, a source close to Wright told ESPN, “He’s fully at peace with the decision.”
For one season, Neptune, 37, was the head coach at Fordham. He guided the Rams to a 16-16 season, a 14-win increase over their previous season in 2020-21.
From 2008 to 2010, Neptune worked as a video coordinator for Villanova before returning as an assistant coach under Wright from 2013 through 2020.
“When looking for a successor, we wanted a candidate who could navigate the changing landscape of collegiate athletics and keep Villanova in a position of strength — now and in the future,” Jackson said. “After meeting with several exceptional candidates, we found all those attributes and more in Kyle Neptune. Kyle quickly stood out for his basketball knowledge, recruiting savvy and natural ability to connect with student-athletes and coaches.”
The announcement of Wright’s retirement shocked the college basketball world, as he is one of the most well-respected coaches in the game. With Mike Krzyzewski’s recent retirement, Wright was one of just three current coaches to have won multiple national championships. (The others are Bill Self and Rick Pitino.)
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told ESPN that Wright is “absolutely” one of the best coaches of the modern era.
Boeheim was one of many coaches reached out to by ESPN who were taken aback by the revelation. Mike Brey, the coach of Notre Dame, expressed surprise as well.
“He has really achieved it all and done it all with class,” Brey told ESPN. “It’s a big loss for the college game.”
Wright joins Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the third coach with multiple national titles to step down in the last year. That marks the departure of three of the game’s most famous faces, consistent victors, and influential voices.
“Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Williams and Coach Wright are huge losses for college basketball in just over a year,” NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt told ESPN. “Yet like the legends they learned from and followed — Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Rollie Massimino — the next generation of coaches will rise to the challenge of advancing our great game.”
Wright’s achievements, trophies, and triumphs speak for themselves. The way Wright handled himself, however, was a recurring theme across the sport on Wednesday.
Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese told ESPN, “I’ve known Jay his entire coaching career.” “He is a great coach but a better person.”
Wright’s impact and work at Villanova will reverberate through all of the players and coaches he worked with, according to former Villanova player and assistant coach Baker Dunleavy.
“Coach Wright’s true legacy will not be his championships,” said Dunleavy, now the head coach at Quinnipiac University. “His legacy is the set of values he has instilled in his coaches and players. Those are obvious watching a Villanova game — and more importantly meeting a Villanova player. To him that is the most significant mark he could leave. We are all proud to be associated with him.”
During his 21 seasons with the Wildcats, Wright finished 520-197, winning at least 30 games six times, the sixth-most in men’s Division I history. He won the Big East regular-season title eight times and the conference tournament five times.
Wright was the head coach at Hofstra for seven seasons before coming to Villanova, winning two America East titles and making two NCAA tournament trips.