What Jay Wrights retirement means for college hoops, the Big East, and UConn mens basketball

· Villanova coach Jay Wright looks on from the sidelines during a ... announced his retirement on Wednesday night, sending shock waves through 
Video Jay wright villanova head coach announces his retirement – cnn

“He said the wrong thing, and the ref threw him out,” Calhoun recalled. “After the game he said to me, ‘But you were saying things.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been saying things for a long time. But Jay, there is such a thing as stripes.’”

Ultimately, Wright earned those stripes, and then some: two national titles, four trips to the Final Four, 13 Big East titles, induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer and the unerring respect of just about anyone associated with college basketball.

In fact, Wright essentially stepped into the role once occupied by Calhoun and Jim Boeheim, and before that John Thompson, Lou Carnasecca and Rollie Massimimo, as the face of the Big East. A role Calhoun believes Wright filled “incredibly well.”

On Wednesday night, Wright shocked the basketball world by announcing he was stepping down after 21 seasons at Villanova’s helm. Wright, who coached Hofstra for seven seasons before taking over at ’Nova, is “only” 60 years old — far younger than Calhoun was when he retired in 2012 at 70, or Roy Williams (71) a year ago, or Mike Krzyzewski (75) just a few weeks ago.

Is Calhoun shocked by Wright’s decision?

“In this time and era, I’m not,” the fellow Hall-of-Famer said. “With the way Jay says he wants to build a program, and in a way Danny (Hurley) says he wants to build a program, by developing kids — Jay’s done it, I think Danny’s trying to do it, but good luck with that.”

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The NCAA’s one-time transfer rule, which allows players to transfer once without having to sit out a season, coupled with the extra year of eligibility afforded all student-athletes a couple of years ago, has made recruiting and maintaining a roster all the more difficult. In fact, Villanova and UConn were the only two Big East programs that didn’t bring in a single transfer last season.

Add in things like Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) legislation and other factors, and it may be no coincidence that Wright, Williams, and Coach K all retired within a 13-month span.

“Pretty soon, I don’t care if you’re 60 or 70 or 40, it’s got to weigh you down somewhat,” Calhoun said. “And now, a little bit more of what he’s done so well for so many years, bringing kids in who are real good players and develop them into great players … the grind of that. You can’t go a day away from the phone anymore. All that builds up.”

Calhoun returned to the sidelines to coach fledgling, Division III University of Saint Joseph five years ago, but left that position in November, not because he wasn’t healthy but because he was healthy — freeing him up to do things like head down to Mexico for a week with his wife and some friends, as Calhoun will do on Friday.

Quinnipiac head coach Baker Dunleavy played four years under Wright, and later joined his staff as an assistant for seven seasons. The only thing that shocked him about Wright’s retirement was the timing.

“I think he probably expedited it a little bit, based on word leaking out,” Dunleavy said. “But it’s what he’s been talking about for a long time. He’s never wanted to be a guy coaching into his 70s. I think he wants to experience more of life, the flexibility of life he’s never had. He’s been coaching for 30-plus years. He’s never had a summer off, he’s never been able to do with his wife some of the nice things they want to do. And I think he wants to do it while he’s still relatively young. I’ve known that was his mindset, but I didn’t know he would be retiring effective (Wednesday).”

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Dunleavy agrees that the changing nature of college coaching over the past few years may have hastened Wright’s retirement.

“The business that we’ve all known in recent memory has turned an about-face,” he said. “It’s just completely different, the way you go about recruiting. The ability to build a program the way he would like, through the high school ranks and through maturation and growth from within, might be threatened a little bit out there. Maybe not at Villanova, but in general, there’s gonna be less and less of that, and we can already see it. Could he learn a new way? Absolutely. He could do anything. But at this stage of his career does he want to? I think only he can answer that, but I think that probably would be a part of it.”

Who’s the new face of the Big East?

For the record, Calhoun went 12-4 head-to-head against Wright. Hurley went 1-5, his lone win coming in a dramatic contest this past Feb. 22 from which Hurley was ejected a few minutes before halftime. No doubt, Wright benefited from the Big East break-up in 2013, dominating a league suddenly devoid of UConn, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, etc.

Now, Wright’s departure creates a huge void — for Villanova, and for the Big East. Kyle Neptune, a former Villanova assistant who took over at Fordham this past year, will step into Wright’s shoes.

“I’m sure they had him lined up, he must be very good,” Calhoun said. “With that said, it’s a tough job. (Wright) took Villanova to a different height than what it had.”

As for the Big East, who steps into Wright’s role as “face of the league?” Ed Cooley is now the “dean” of Big East coaches, entering his 12th season at the helm at Providence. Creighton’s Greg McDermott has been at his school the longest (entering his 13th season), but the Bluejays only joined the Big East in 2013.

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Hurley may have the most name-recognition, and he’s certainly turned the Husky program around. Wright’s retirement could open an avenue for UConn to reclaim its reign at the top of the league from two decades ago, though Hurley must improve his overall record against both McDermott (1-5 overall, 0-5 at UConn) and Cooley (2-7 overall, 1-2 at UConn).

There will be new blood in the league, as well. Shaheen Holloway, fresh off leading Saint Peter’s to a miracle run to the Elite Eight last month, is the new head coach at Seton Hall. Quinnipiac fell to Saint Peter’s in the MAAC championship tournament semifinals, and Dunleavy believes Holloway, who once was a star player at Seton Hall, will be a great addition to the Big East.

“I think he’s obviously the perfect fit there,” Dunleavy said. “He’ll bring a mentality that they’re used to, which is a defense-first mentality. I think they won’t skip a beat in terms of the personality of the program.”

With the addition of Holloway and Neptune, seven of the Big East’s 11 head coaches are Black, as high a percentage as any league in the country.

The face of Villanova and the Big East has changed virtually overnight. Who will fill the void left by Jay Wright?

“He’ll be missed,” Calhoun noted. “Jay’s very appreciative, from Day 1, of what Steve (Lappas) and Rollie (Massimimo) did for him. He recognizes that there are people that went before him that made it very special. I think he’s been a great spokesman for the game.”

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