Column: Jay Wright Is Too Smart To Leave Villanova

Real estate isn’t a good indicator of a celebrity’s plans for the future. Even so, Jay Wright’s listing of his Berwyn home for sale has bred rumors of Villanova’s iconic head coach potentially leaving for greener pastures. In a column for Forbes, Adam Zagoria reported that the Knicks were expressing heavy interest in the two-time national-champion head coach. While the Knicks are certainly a pasture, there’s more wet mud than green grass on that plot of land.

 

 

 

Dana O’Neil quickly doused the fire in water:

 

Further, sources connected to Villanova’s basketball program told me that the Wrights sold the property to both downsize and move closer to campus. The Wright children are out of the house, so downsizing is natural, if not common. The new property is five-to-ten minutes closer to the Main Line university, I’m told.

But, even if I didn’t have that information, would Wright departing the throne he has built make any sense? 

I don’t think so.

Learn From The Failures Of Others

The dramatic and rapid fall of John Beilein as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers should act as a deterrent for Wright. Beilein is widely regarded as a future inductee into the Naismith Hall Of Fame. His coaching resume speaks for itself. Yet, less than one season after leaving Michigan for the NBA, Beilein is already walking away from the Cavaliers, according to Shams Charania. The 67-year-old’s inability to adapt at the next level took less than one full season to expose him as being in way over his head.

The lesson is that professional basketball players don’t give a damn about the culture you instilled or the success you had at the collegiate level. The relationship between coach and player is entirely different. The motivation shifts from living a dream or winning to making money. When there’s a paycheck involved, the psychology coaches use to motivate their players is centered in relating to those players on a personal level. 

The Fateful Film Session

Having said that, the discussion could be had that Beilein passed the point of recovery with his players when he lost his composure during a film session and used the word “thugs” to describe how his team was playing.

Ultimately, the discussion needs to be had as to whether it’s an indicator of something deeper. Could the behind-closed-doors slippage be a look into the relationship Beilein had with his collegiate players? I’m not accusing Beilein of anything. I’m just pointing to the fact that there’s no reason to believe that this incident was his first.

Regardless, Beilein’s inability to reach his players leaked out in a horrendous way. It was the first domino in a chain that lost him his job, and it will cast a cloud over his legacy. 

How do we know that Jay Wright is any different when there aren’t any cameras there? We simply assume it. We see the fight that his players put forth on Fox Sports One and the classiness with which Wright presents himself to the public eye. But, we don’t know with certainty that there isn’t an unlikeable version of Jay Wright when the doors are closed.

Beilein isn’t the only revered coach to fail at the professional level. But, the way in which he has crashed and burned is certainly a unique cautionary tail for coaches rumored to have NBA traction like Wright.

There Isn’t A Sensible NBA Fit

It makes sense that the smoke is heaviest with the Sixers and the Knicks. Brett Brown is perpetually on the hot seat. His dismissal would open the door for Wright to take an NBA job in his backyard and hometown. Given the Sixers’ talent, Wright would essentially be microwaving a gourmet meal that actually tastes as good reheated as it did fresh out of the kitchen. 

However, consider that Wright has recycled the same offense through multiple eras of point guards. He has recruited point guards who can snipe from the perimeter and shoot off-the-dribble. He has seared the same jump-shooting offense into numerous iterations of his roster. Why should anyone expect him to be able to adjust a college offense he has preached for years to reflect the skills of a point guard who won’t attempt jump shots and an overall roster that is not especially adept at perimeter shooting?

Let’s take it a step further.

A Big East Case Study

Consider the case of Brad Stevens. The former Butler coach stepped in at the beginning of a rebuild. He benefitted from a strong organizational structure that was competent at evaluating collegiate talent. He was able to develop as a coach and teach unproven players without daunting public expectations.  

Stevens is undoubtedly a brilliant coach. But, would he ever have had the chance to become what he has if there were egos to feed and expectations to meet with a ready-made situation? The introduction of Kyrie Irving into Stevens’ system impresses that maybe Stevens was the beneficiary of the right opportunity at the right time. Irving’s stay in Boston was limited to two seasons. The team exceeded expectations in the season that saw Irving miss the most time. However, the Celtics fell remarkably short when their biggest ego was able to play.

Now bring it back to Wright.

Jay Wright would be thrust into a taxing situation. He’d have the pressure of a market fielding high expectations and the balancing act of numerous egos to cater to. Did I mention he’d also be juggling the NBA learning curve? Would he be able to handle it? I can’t say with confidence that there’s any reason to believe he wouldn’t be able to. But, his inexperience with motivating established NBA players could put him at a significant disadvantage.

The Concrete Jungle

There is the other side of the Brad Stevens case study. Some teams are trying to rebuild. There are teams that are looking for coaches to grow young, unestablished players. No egos, no expectations, just developing young talent and building a core. Teams like Chicago or Minnesota are rebuilders with strong-enough foundational pieces to be intriguing options. However, it just doesn’t seem realistic that Wright would leave what he has established, live away from home for six months per year, and risk failure for an opportunity in a market that isn’t in the top tier of NBA markets.

That leaves the Knicks, a team with real smoke of being in on Wright. I don’t need to dive into the market that is New York City. R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith, Jr., and Mitchell Robinson are intriguing young pieces that Wright could mold. Add in another lottery pick this summer, and the idea of the Knicks becomes worth considering.

Unfortunately, the outrageous, egotistical James Dolan owns the team. His sacrifice of David Fizdale earlier this season left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people around the NBA.

James Dolan, the lack of cohesion within the front office, and the misalignment of the pieces with the franchise’s mandated direction negate the intrigue that comes with the on-the-court pieces.

The Knicks are eternally stuck in quick sand because they set their leaders up for failure. Jay Wright isn’t about to wreck his paint job by driving his car through a swamp.