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Who would succeed Jay Wright if he ever left Villanova?

There is no clear heir to the throne on the Main Line

Nebraska v Villanova Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Nobody wants Jay Wright to leave. Nobody is saying Jay Wright is going to leave. But he will leave one day. The most likely scenario is that departure will be in a retirement many years from now. However, with the reports of UCLA’s interest as well as the rumblings surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s clear that Wright continues to be a very popular name in other teams’ coaching searches.

When thinking of succession, it’s important to consider that every coach ever hired at Villanova has either had ties to the university or experience coaching in the Philadelphia area. So with that in mind, below is a list of names that could be under consideration if Wright were to hypothetically exit. Some are short-term options if Wright were to leave soon, others are better fits if Wright stays at Villanova until he retires, but most have ties to the Wildcats and/or Wright that would continue the program’s culture.

From the coaching tree

Pat Chambers

The Philly native was on the Villanova staff from 2004-09 and was a key recruiter for the team’s Final Four run. At Penn State, he’s continued to recruit the Philadelphia area well despite State College not exactly being a draw for most high school hoopers. However, he hasn’t won much at all. He’s 169-168 as a head coach with just one NCAA tournament appearance. That could make him a tough sell, and at 48 years old, he’s probably only an option if Wright leaves soon.

Baker Dunleavy

Dunleavy played at Villanova from 2003-06 and then returned to the Wildcats as an assistant from 2010-17. During his coaching tenure there, he helped recruit and mold the core that led to two NCAA titles. At Quinnipiac he is 28-36 overall, but it is a very tough school to win at and his team was vastly improved in his second year, tying for second place in the tough MAAC. He’s young and has the Jay Wright “look.” If Wright were to leave today, he would be considered by many as the frontrunner for the gig. And at only 36 years old, he’s a good bet for the future too.

Ashley Howard

The other important assistant from the two NCAA title runs, Howard is a Philly native that recruited at a high level during his 2013-18 stint as a Villanova assistant. He took over La Salle last season and the Explorers got better throughout the season. He would likely need a good second season before he’d be considered for a gig like Villanova, but if Wright were to abruptly leave, Howard would have many supporters for becoming the next head coach. Like Dunleavy, his youth makes him a strong long-term bet too.

Billy Lange

It would be a Big 5 stunner for the St. Joseph’s coach to leave for the Villanova job, but it could happen with Lange. He is a long time protege of Wright and has been a Villanova assistant twice. Lange’s age and overall lack of success put him in a similar spot to Chambers. His lone D1 job before St. Joseph’s was Navy, which is an incredibly tough place to win, and he performed respectably. He may not be the top choice, but the rivalry wouldn’t get in the way if Villanova believed he was. It’s a better job.

Joe Jones

Of all the former Wright assistants with head coaching experience, Jones would appear least likely to get the job. In 15 seasons as a head coach at Columbia and Boston University, he’s won just one league title and has failed to make the NCAA tournament. At 53 years old, he’s also an older candidate compared to other assistants.

Current assistants

Kyle Neptune

The top in-house contender to succeed Wright is Neptune. He’s the longest-tenured assistant on staff and has been with Wright for two separate stints. His name was even floated around for a few head coaching jobs this offseason. It’s hard to imagine Villanova going with a rookie head coach, but if any assistant gets the job, it will likely be Neptune.

George Halcovage

Another long-term member of Wright’s staff, Halcovage has been a part of the program since 2008. He rose to assistant coach two seasons ago and has been a key part of the team’s recruiting effort. Halcovage is not an immediate option for the job but could be if Wright stays at Villanova until he retires.

Mike Nardi

The former Villanova guard just wrapped up his first season as an assistant after holding several other roles on staff. He’s a newbie to the coaching world but is a well-liked former player. Like Halcovage, he’s more of a long-term candidate than anything else.

Dwayne Anderson

This past season was Anderson’s first back at Villanova. After being an assistant at Penn State, where he was a valuable recruiter, Anderson slid back into the Director of Basketball Operations role. He’s likely next in line for an assistant job at the moment, putting him down the pecking order in terms of succession talks.

Former players (still playing)

Ryan Arcidiacono

If any player was cut from the same cloth as Wright it was Arcidiacono. On several occasions, Wright has spoken about their mental connection and close relationship. When Arcidiacono finishes his professional career, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him join Wright’s staff. File him away as a potential successor if Wright stays another decade or so.

Jalen Brunson

The Villanova legend was often referred to by Wright as the smartest player he ever coached. Like Arcidiacono, if Brunson wants to get into coaching, he’d likely have a spot waiting for him at Villanova. He may be even more likely to pursue coaching as a post-career option given that his father, Rick, was a longtime NBA assistant. Again, file this one away.

Former assistants in NBA

Brett Gunning

Consider Gunning your wild card. He has received plenty of praise for the work he’s done as an assistant with the Houston Rockets. Long before that he spent seven seasons as a Jay Wright assistant at Villanova and before that he was with Wright at Hofstra. He was also a manager under Rollie Massimino at Villanova and UNLV. Working against him is that he’s been out of the college game since 2008 with seemingly no aspirations of returning.

Ed Pinckney

The Villanova legend began his coaching career as a Wildcats assistant from 2003 to 2007. Since then he’s been an NBA assistant with three different teams. Turning to Pinckney, who has zero head coaching experience, would be the Patrick Ewing/Chris Mullin route. With Pinckney and Wright virtually the same age, it makes him only an option if Wright leaves soon. If that happens, expect him to get an interview, but he’d seem like a long shot for the job.

Outside hires

Ryan Odom

Given how important history and culture is to the Villanova program, it would be a minor shock to see the school hire a basketball coach that had no ties to university. However, if they went that route, a coach like Ryan Odom would make sense. He’s a notable name who can build a program, is thought highly of in the coaching community, and has experience coaching in an area that Villanova recruits. Sounds a little like Wright 20+ years ago.

Nathan Davis

To find Wright’s replacement, why not go back to his alma mater? At Bucknell, Davis has been a big success in four seasons, posting an 89-45 records. Before that he had an elite run in Division III. Davis is from D.C., has recruited well, and is a fast riser. If Villanova doesn’t scoop him up, another program will.

Ed Cooley

This is probably the biggest reach on this list, but it’s not that crazy. Cooley has won in the Big East at a school that stresses academics, and during his tenure, only Villanova has recruited the Northeast better than Providence. He’s beloved everywhere he goes, and while he’s found a home with the Friars, one would think if Villanova came calling, he would make the change.