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Thursday, April 07, 2016

Letter to Jay Wright: Please Stay at Villanova

Dear Jay:

First, congratulations on Villanova's national championship.  You are to be commended for crafting a high-quality coaching staff and putting together a very good group of players.  You had a solid core of starters and substitutes that played great during the NCAA tournament and beat a "who's who" in college basketball to win the championship.  You should take some time to celebrate this great accomplishment with your family, your friends, the team and your school. 

It seems like the NBA is interested in your services.  Yes, Phoenix is a nice place, but is the NBA really about basketball more so than entertainment and building character as opposed to coaching characters?   By all accounts -- and I write this with a big smile -- you never will be as good a coach as they say you are now.  In truth, you're probably virtually the same guy you have been in the past five years.  You're certainly not as awful a coach as they said last year, when the fates did not align and you could not get a very talented team to the Sweet 16.  Overall, you're a heckuva coach.

Yes, the NBA is attractive, the pinnacle, but it can be cruel.  They'll mock you for your suits, they'll call you "Joe College," and they'll argue that if people like John Calipari could not succeed, why should you?  You won't have a campus environment so to speak of, you will not command the respect that you do at Villanova, you'll be on the road a ton, and you'll have to do with young players who are still growing up, their agents, their families, the media, and the pressure from the front office to win.  After all, you're the magical Jay Wright, you beat Kansas, Oklahoma and Carolina in succession, so why can't you, with the bad Phoenix roster, beat the Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder.  Heck, if you to go Phoenix, you'll not only have the NBA, you'll have the Western Conference.  Which means, unless they turn around the roster fast, you could be coaching back in college in three years. 

There is precedent for this dilemma.  About 30 years ago I attended a charity banquet on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia.  I forget the charity, but Rollie Massimino was the guest of honor.  Yes, the same guy who coached the Wildcats to their improbable title in 1985, when they only missed on shot in the second half and beat the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas by a point to win the national championship.  The story in the papers -- there was no internet yet -- was that Coach Mass was about to accept the head coaching job of the New Jersey Nets.  The roasting was fun, the deal was all but done, but something was brewing up on the podium.  Some good friends of Coach Mass's -- 76ers legend and coach Billy Cunningham and the late, great Jim Valvano -- were some of the roasters.  And they chided Massimino mercilessly about the perils of the NBA.  While the late Darryl Dawkins was loveable, he really was, he also was a very talented man-child who was hard to coach.  Dawkins, a former 76er, became a Net.  And that prompted Billy Cunningham to ask one of the night's most memorable questions -- "Have you ever been to Lovetron?"  Lovetron was the imaginary planet Dawkins said he habitated.  The audience roared. 

Massimino took the ribbing in good stride.  After the festivities ended, a bunch of basketball luminaries repaired to the bar at the hotel, among them Cunningham and Valvano.  They had a few, and then a few more, and then they talked Massimino out of the NBA and into staying at Villanova. 

Now Coach Mass was an over-sized personality, and he ultimately was blamed (probably correctly) for fracturing Philadelphia's Big Five (subsequently others revived it) because he had to go "bigger time" with his Wildcats.  Ultimately, he made the error of trying to replace the fallen Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV, and, well, it's hard to replace any legend and I would recommend that any coach going into that situation avoid it.  There also seemed to be something about a secret deal he cut with the university president about his compensation that didn't go over so well.  Ultimately, Massimino and UNLV parted company. 

There is a lesson in all of this.  Why, at 54 or so, would you leave for the NBA?  What possibly could you prove there?  You already are a wonderful coach.  You work at an excellent university in a great setting.  You can recruit good kids who are great players there.  And you can win.  It was one thing to see then Penn coach Fran Dunphy bolt the Quakers after his long tenure there.  Dunphy probably was seeking more money than the Ivies can pay but also a chance to see how his skills translated to a school that could contend for a national championship.  But you already have that, Coach Wright, and you've done that. 

But the lesson isn't finished.  You could argue that you could get itchy at Villanova and want to leave for a bigger job.  I have news for you -- you have turned Villanova into a big job.  Oh, yes, the Augustinians don't pay the way the schools where your peers coach pay.  You could get more at Syracuse should they bail on their deal to promote Mike Hopkins should Jim Boeheim retire, or you could wait to replace someone who currently is flailing at a top-ten job and might get fired next year.  That could be the play.  But that's kind of what Rollie did, and it didn't work.  That doesn't mean it won't for you, but why put yourself under all that pressure?

Finally, how much money is enough?  By the looks of it, you make enough coin to buy some pretty fancy duds to wear on the sideline.  So, suppose a place like Syracuse -- where it can be as cold as hell for long periods, by the way -- were to double your compensation.  What would you buy in update New York?  What would you really do with it?

Sometimes the grass can be greener somewhere else.  Sometimes we don't appreciate what's in front of us.  So sure, take a look, talk to the fellows in Phoenix, perhaps even consider wearing light blue pants with white loafers, but then consider what you have and all that you have built.  And then say no.

And hey, you have a helluva team coming back next year, and imagine what this victory will do for recruiting.  You have built a great legacy at Villanova, arguably better than Rollie's.  Now you can add to it.

Again, congratulations on your team's great victory, one for the ages. 

All the best,



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