Kyle Neptune Officially Introduced As Head Coach


Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Kyle Neptune was officially introduced as the new head coach in a Friday morning press conference.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

On Wednesday night, around 7 p.m, rumors began circulating about Jay Wright’s potential retirement after 21 years as the leader of Villanova basketball. Wright, 60, was expected to have at least a few more years left in his Hall of Fame career, so the news came as a surprise. As new information emerged with each passing minute, the biggest question for the uneasy Villanova community, aside from why, was who? Who could possibly replace Wright? But before anyone had the chance to debate the answer, speculation began that former assistant coach, Kyle Neptune, would be making his return to Villanova. 

In a matter of hours, Neptune and Wright had shared the news with their respective teams, and Wright had officially confirmed the rumors. He is in fact retiring, and Neptune will take his seat at the top. 

Neptune rejoins the Villanova community after spending the last year as head coach at Fordham University. He previously spent 10 years under Wright with the Wildcats, serving as an administrative intern/video coordinator from 2008-2010 before returning in 2013 as an assistant coach. 

On Friday morning, just moments after Wright addressed the media for the final time, Neptune stepped to the podium for the first time as the head coach at Villanova. He was joined by Vice President and Director of Athletics, Mark Jackson, and University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A, Ph.D. 

“Mark (Jackson) and Father Peter, I really appreciate you guys giving me an opportunity here,” Neptune said in his opening statement. “It’s obviously a dream come true for me. Really appreciate your confidence in me.” 

“My role now is just a standard bearer for Villanova basketball. And I think my job is to just make sure that we keep this culture together, and make sure we hold this high standard of what Coach (Wright) has created here.” 

The turnaround from learning of the position opening to Wednesday’s announcement was quicker than many would expect. Wright originally told Jackson in early March that he planned on retiring after the season, but as the team continued to advance in the NCAA Tournament, the timeline for finding a replacement was shortened significantly. 

“Last week I was just practice planning and planning recruiting (at Fordham),” Neptune said. “Of course I talked to Mark throughout the year, we’re great friends, so I heard that this may happen, but honestly, Coach (Wright) has talked about this a couple of times throughout the years, so I really didn’t think anything of it. But when I got the call from Mark a couple of days ago that they wanted to sit down, I was shocked like everybody else was.”

Filling the shoes of a coach with Wright’s level of success is no simple task. To ensure the smoothest transition possible Jackson, Donohue and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees Justin Gmelich prioritized finding a coach who already had a connection with the program and the university. 

“The beauty of Kyle, when it comes back to our number one priority that Jay and Father Peter and Justin talked about, the one we kept coming back to was continuity,” Jackson said on Friday morning. “How do we protect the standards that we built here? Our graduation rates, the work we do in service, the way we treat one another, the way we play together, the way we play with humility and class and unselfishness, the way we defend, the way we rebound. He knows it all. He has the answers to the test and in a different way, style and manner than Jay Wright.”

There have been many comparisons between Neptune and Wright over the past few days, but Jackson made sure to emphasize that while Neptune is filling the role that Wright has held for over two decades, Wright is “irreplaceable” and there is no expectation for Neptune to be Jay Wright.

“We do have a leader that understands what’s important to our entire community,” Jackson said of Neptune. “And on top of that, he’s a wonderfully competitive basketball coach, that already, in two days, has made an impact. So I’m really, really excited to welcome Kyle and his family back to Villanova.” 

Neptune wasted no time after the official announcement on Wednesday, meeting with the team at Villanova to kickstart the transition of power.

“I think it went pretty well,” Neptune said of the conversation. “One thing is that I just wanted to make sure that they knew that I was just as shocked as everyone else, just kinda making sure I understood that. I know these guys pretty well and I know I’ve been gone for a year now, so it’s just a matter of building up our relationships again and trying to propel this program and get it to right where it’s been.”  

Neptune, having only been gone for one season, had established relationships with many members of the current roster, but when he stepped away from Villanova, those relationships changed due to the circumstances. 

“Being away, I really didn’t want to meddle in the program,” Neptune explained. “Of course, after games, you text the guys to say congrats or good game, but really wanted to let the guys move forward with the staff and build their own relationships. I was definitely not talking to them everyday, so I am definitely looking forward to continuing relationships with some of them and building relationships with others.” 

But it is not just with the players that Neptune shares a bond as he worked with each member of the current coaching staff during his ten years at Villanova, allowing for a natural trust and respect as he takes on his new role. 

“I grew up with some of these guys,” Neptune said of the other coaches. “I’ve known them for years and years, we’ve shared offices, you know, we’re all family, an extremely tight knit group.”  

Often, when a new head coach is hired, there is some shuffling of the coaching staff, but because of this connection, Neptune said that they “intend on keeping the staff intact,” a priority for Wright when making the decision to step down. 

“We really wanted it to work so that we could keep our staff intact and keep all the players intact,” Wright explained. “To be where we are today with Kyle, our staff intact, all these players intact, the leadership, our recruits, is really what Patty (Wright, Jay’s wife) and my dream was. To be in this spot right now. We’re thrilled about that.” 

Wright’s dream has become a reality. And as he passes the baton to Neptune, all eyes will be on the newest head coach to see if he is up for the challenge. Between the foundation that Wright has built over his time, a strong and talented roster, a familiar coaching staff, and ten years of watching Wright work, Neptune could not be in a better position to take the reins and continue the success of this program. The Villanova faithful will continue to mourn the past and worry about the future, but once the dust settles and the new season rolls around, Villanova basketball will still be Villanova basketball, it will just be Neptune’s turn.