Jack Kraft was hired as Villanova's head basketball coach in 1961 and coached the team for 12 seasons, ending in 1973 with a record of 242-96. With his overall winning percentage on the Main Line topping 71.5%, he remains the winningest coach in the Wildcat's history.
He passed away yesterday at the assisted living community where he resided in Cape May, New Jersey. He was 93-years old at the time.
"Coach Kraft was a winner, a gentleman and an outstanding coach," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "His players loved and respected him. They stayed in touch with him until his final days. Everyone in the Villanova family will miss Coach Kraft. He is a beloved member of the Villanova community."
Kraft led the Wildcats to the 1971 National Championship game where they made a strong bid to upset John Wooden's powerhouse UCLA Bruins. Despite losing the game, he was named the National Coach of the Year in 1971 for the run, where his Wildcats lost 68-62.
He won 20 games in seven of his 12 seasons at Villanova, in an era where 30-game regular seasons were rare. The Wildcats were a constant participant in the postseason during his era, going to the NCAA Elite 8 in his first season and again in 1970 and finishing as runners up in 1971, with appearances in '62, '64, '70, '71, and '72. When not participating in the NCAA tournament, his teams were usually a threat to win in the NIT, taking 4th Place in 1963, runner-up in 1965, and 3rd Place in 1966.
The players he coached can be counted among some of the Wildcats' most legendary names: Chris Ford, Tom Ingelsby, Wali Jones, Bill Melchionni, Hank Simeontkowski, Hubie White, Jim Washington, and (of course) Howard Porter. Kraft also coached current Lafayette head coach Fran O'Hanlon.
His teams in the 1960s helped to raise Villanova's program to national prominence, and paved the way for future head coaches to find success on that stage.
Kraft's trademark matchup zone defense helped propel his teams' success.
He left Villanova in 1973 to take the head coaching position at the University of Rhode Island, where he coached for seven seasons before retiring in 1971 due to health reasons. He will always be remembered for his tremendous successes as the Villanova coach, however.