Jay Wright Bids Farewell In Final Press Conference


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Retiring Villanova head coach Jay Wright was emotional at many points during Friday’s conference.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

For most of the season, Jay Wright underwent lasts.

His last game at the Finneran Pavilion. His last Big East road trip. His last Tournament at Madison Square Garden. His last NCAA Tournament. His last practice. His last Final Four. His last team meeting.

Wright knew going into the postseason that he would retire at the end of the year, but only a select few (his wife, Patty, University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A, Ph.D., Director of Athletics Mark Jackson and Chairman of the Board Justin Gmelich) knew of each of Wright’s milestones as Wright went through them.

On Friday, as he sat down for his final press conference, everyone knew this was it.

What Wright means to Villanova was evident from the beginning. Both Donohue and Jackson fought back tears while introducing him, emphasizing not only what Wright means to the basketball team, but to the university as a whole. 

“This entire institution has benefited from your leadership,” Jackson said. “Our brand has grown bigger and stronger. Our reputation has only enhanced. Applications here at the university have skyrocketed. Buildings (like) the one we’re in have been built. All of our other 23 varsity programs and support services have benefited from your success.” 

Jackson thanked Wright for the many great memories that he has given the University, and how he has served as one of the most public faces of Villanova itself.

“Most importantly, for many of us here in the room and all of ‘Nova Nation, it’s the countless memories and experiences that we’ve shared on courts across the country that we’ll hold to for the rest of our lives,” Jackson said. “It’s tough to express how much gratitude we all have for that. To do it with such dignity, humility, likeability, lovability, it truly makes you irreplaceable.”

Wright was less than a minute into his remarks before getting emotional himself.

“What Patty and I want this to be is the next step in the Villanova basketball history, 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. Accolades, or winning games, is not as big as just being the coach at Villanova. We’ve been part of a great tradition and we’ve been blessed to be the head of that tradition for 21 years.”

Wright’s appreciation for the job and love for the University was evident, and he repeatedly praised his players, his staff, University leaders, and new head coach Kyle Neptune. He continuously mentioned that when he retired, he wanted the program to be in a position of strength, and with the leadership it currently has he believes “the program is in great shape.”

Wright went into the specifics of his retirement. Throughout the season, he said that he realized that he “didn’t have the edge that [he] always had,” and felt that he had to fire himself up for things that he once didn’t have to fire himself up for. Wright said that he told his players, “You’re either 100% in, or you’re against us,” and when he knew that he could no longer give 100%, it was unfair to continue on as head coach asking his players to do so for him.

Throughout the conference, Wright made sure to emphasize both that he believed the program was set up for success even without him, but that he, his wife and all with the program were working to ensure that the players were “taken care of” and that “everything is in place.” He said that the coaching staff will remain intact, and Wright is still checking in with incoming recruits Cameron Whitmore, Mark Armstrong and Brendan Hausen, who he expects will all remain committed to the Wildcats. Armstrong and Whitmore attended the 2021-2022 Men’s Basketball Awards Banquet, and Whitmore was in attendance at Friday’s press conference as well.

Although Wright has known for weeks that he was planning on retiring, he had hoped to keep it under wraps until after Thursday’s banquet to allow his players have the spotlight for as long as possible.

“It would have been easier on us, like just tell everybody, get it off your (chest),” Wright said. “But that Final Four was about Collin (Gillespie) and Justin (Moore) and these guys and what they did. That was what kept us going. We’re like, this is about these guys, this is awesome, and they deserve it.”

Wright was most emotional when describing what Villanova means to him and when talking about his staff. Wright wasn’t sure if he was “on the top of my game, but they were.” 

However, no last meant more to him than this year’s Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, when Villanova beat St. John’s, UConn and Creighton to win the title. Wright’s love of the tournament is no secret, and he was choked up describing the experience of his final time competing in an event he loves so much.

“We got to enjoy every part of it,” Wright said. “Because Patty and I would say to each other, ‘This is gonna be the last time in the Big East Tournament.’ Going to Madison Square Garden, it was awesome. And when we won, Mark and Patty and I looked at each other, like ‘Holy sh-t. Do you believe this?’”

Donohue jokingly shoved him after he swore.

However, Wright did admit that there were some moments the truth was harder to keep to himself.

“I remember Dana (O’Neil of The Athletic) asked me at the press conference (in New Orleans), you know, ‘What do you think Mike Krzyzewski’s thinking about, this is his last game,’” Wright said. “And I was thinking, ‘I know exactly what he’s thinking about.’ But I didn’t want to say it.”

The final question of the press conference was about what Wright will do with his free time after spending 21 years coaching college basketball, but Wright made it clear that he doesn’t have an answer. He hasn’t fully thought about it yet, so focused on the transition and making sure his players and his program is taken care of, and he described himself as in a “firestorm” right now.

“Obviously we’re not great planners,” Wright said. “We’re gonna have to figure this out.”

With that, Wright’s final press conference concluded. Wright stood and exited stage right, meeting Neptune at the top of the stairs and hugging his former assistant, passing the torch to the new head coach. Wright descended the stairs, leaving his last press conference for good, before finding Patty, and asking his Sports Information Director, Mike Sheridan, to grab a chair for him. 

Sheridan pulled up a chair for Wright in the front row, beside Patty, in the middle of the audience. There Wright sat, arm around his wife, dutifully watching a future Wright built begin. 

Retirement official, final press conference done, Wright began a first.