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There’s nobody better than Jay Wright to lead Villanova Basketball

Jay Wright has had his ups and downs as Villanova’s coach, but there may be no better fit for the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Wisconsin vs Villanova Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Pardon me for bringing in a tweet from the former VU Hoops contributor and lately professional malcontent troll for this site’s parent company, to illustrate the past seven years of Villanova basketball. What that tweet doesn’t illustrate as it waits patiently under the bridge with its friends, is the fact that if you go back a full decade — even stretch it to just 2009 — you see a different story: two Final Four runs, four Big East regular season titles, two Big East Tournament titles, and for Jay Wright especially, a plethora of coaching accolades and awards.

This article isn’t about rehashing yesterday’s game -- there has been, and will be, plenty of that to go around. Instead this is a time to discuss Jay Wright’s career at Villanova and why, despite the pain and disappointment, Villanova fans need to trust the process.

The Wildcats’ head coach has turned things around tremendously at Villanova since hitting the skids in the 2011-12 season with a 13-19 record and no appearance in the postseason. His teams have made it to the NCAA tournament every other year in his tenure since 2005, and have made it to the Sweet 16 (2005; 2008), Elite Eight (2006), Final Four (2009), and won it all (2016).

Forget even that.

Jay Wright’s teams wins games in bunches, and often against the odds. While Daniel Ochefu gave the ‘Cats a great presence in the post last season, it was often without an imposing big man that Wright’s ‘Cats won 25-35 games in a season.

His legacy at Villanova is entirely uncomplicated — he is arguably the best coach in school history at this point in his career. While national media will largely compare him to Coach K and other great coaches at schools that are uniquely unlike Villanova, let’s instead compare him to the other men who have coached the Wildcats.

Wright has won 386 games while on the Main Line, which is a figure eclipsed only by the great Al Severance (413 wins). It took Severance 25 seasons to reach that point, and while it isn’t comparing apples-to-apples (Wright has had a few more games per season to work with), it is notable that the current head coach is creeping up on that number after just 16 seasons.

A better head-to-head though may be the various Wildcat coaches’ winning percentages though. Here’s how they stand:

Villanova Head Coach Win %

Coach Record (%)
Coach Record (%)
Michael Saxe 64-30 (.681)
John Cashman 21-26 (.447)
George Jacobs 62-56 (.525)
Al Severance 413-201 (.673)
Jack Kraft 238-95 (.715)
Rollie Massimino 357-241 (.596)
Steve Lappas 174-110 (.613)
Jay Wright 386-161 (.706)

Wright is surpassed only by Jack Kraft, who won a larger percentage of his games, but over a shorter tenure (12 seasons) and fewer games. Winning over 70% of your games over a long period of time is an immensely difficult task. One that even Wright’s mentor, Rollie Massimino, could not sniff at.

While winning percentage is a good indicator, fans often look to the accolades and hardware for proof. Jay Wright, again, in the clubhouse leader in that category.

While three of his predecessors have taken the ‘Cats to the Final Four (Al Severance only needed to win one game to do it in the 30’s), and two to the title game, none of them ever made a repeat trip to the elite final weekend of the tournament. Jay Wright’s trips in 2009 and 2016 put him in relatively rarefied air for a Wildcats coach. He’s also one of only two ‘Nova coaches to bring home a national title, one of only two to bring home a Big East tournament title — and the only coach to win hardware twice at Madison Square Garden.

For all the petty criticisms that have been launched at Wright, both here and through other venues, over the last decade-plus, the biggest metric is undeniable — Jay Wright’s teams win, a lot. They do it without a cast of multiple McDonald’s All-Americans (though sometimes they have one), and they do it without a roster full of players who will leave school early to go pro.

Wright has a system that works for Villanova — and in the face of a disappointing end to the 2016 Title defense, it is important that fans trust it.

The ‘Cats entered this tournament as the top seed, despite never having their prized recruit Omari Spellman on hand, and missing out on the 2016 title game’s overlooked hero, Phil Booth. They overachieved. It isn’t clear that any other coach in the country could have done more with Villanova’s roster. Wright didn’t fill his team with shooting stars, he loaded it with Villanova basketball players; kids who came to school for the right reasons and who are willing to play a now-proven brand of basketball.

That system will ultimately win the ‘Cats a lot of games, but this isn’t a school that will likely ever out-talent everyone in the nation. It isn’t a school — with its outsize emphasis on graduation rates and being one of the top performers in the NCAA’s APR rating — that will likely ever field a roster of future NBA stars. All of that is perfectly okay, because Wright’s system really is a great fit for this school, and proves that a program can be run successfully with those imperatives.

In the single-elimination world of the NCAA tournament, sometimes a bad game or tough match-up will cause disappointment for an otherwise good team. Villanova was a good team.

Jay Wright is a great coach.