Jay Wright seems like a pretty smart guy.
I mean, he’d have to be at least a little bright, given the run he’s currently on as head coach of the Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball team. During his 17 years there, Wright’s program has won five Big East conference championships, made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, racked up three Final Four appearances (2009, 2016, 2018), and have won two of the last three National Championships.
That last bit puts Wright in rarified company. He’s one of only three active Division 1 head coaches with multiple national titles, alongside Coach K and Roy Williams. He’s also one of only 14 Division 1 head coaches to ever won more than one national title.
The Wildcats are 165-21 over the last five seasons and are about to welcome another huge recruiting class to campus for next season, where they will undoubtedly be one of the favorites to win the title once more. Considering Jay Wright is “only” 56, the truly staggering thing about Villanova’s run is that there’s a chance it’s only just getting started. No program in the country is set up to become a dynasty right now better than them.
All of which is to say that it is entirely understandable that Jay Wright would want to listen to offers to become a head coach in the NBA. Certainly, he must be near the top of many GM’s lists when it comes to potential coaching candidates. And anyone who would make an offer would also be opening up the bank vaults in order to entice him away from the lifetime gig he certainly finds himself in.
But of all the NBA franchises who might extend that offer, perhaps the last one that Wright should ever consider accepting is one from the New York Knicks.
The Knicks fired head coach Jeff Hornacek on Thursday morning, ending a two-year stint and a 60-104 record. Including interim coaches, the team is now looking for its sixth head coach since 2012. It’s a position where only one person has last more than three seasons at the helm since 2004. And apparently, the Knicks have their sights set on Jay Wright.
While Wright has given no indication that he’s interested in pursuing an NBA job, he did leave the door open a crack in a recent interview with The Athletic.
“The NBA does intrigue me. That challenge is appealing, but it’s not worth giving up working with these guys. The whole thing is, to take a new challenge you have to give up what you have. I don’t want to give up what I have. Would I like to coach in the NBA? Yes. But I have to give this up in order to do that, and I don’t see that happening.”
That might be what the Knicks are keying in on, but it also might just be that Wright is the shiniest diamond out there at the moment. From their perspective, it might be perceived as a home run to get Jay to somehow walk away from his burgeoning dynasty in order to be the guy to finally rebuild the Knicks into the NBA franchise they’re supposed to be.
But from Wright’s perspective, aside from a fat contract with enough zeroes to set his grandkids up for life, there isn’t too much of an upside to considering this gig.
First of all, we’ve got two words for you: James Dolan. The group behind the Miami Marlins might have something to say about this, but Dolan is probably the worst owner in all of U.S. professional sports. Under his watch, the Knicks have gone from being one of the cornerstone NBA franchises into a perpetual basement-dweller. He’s also the guy who seems to believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that keeping Isiah Thomas closeby is a good idea for his basketball franchise. Dolan often seems more concerned with the reputation of his blues band than he does with the Knicks and there doesn’t appear to be able signs that he understands what it takes to create a sustainable, successful NBA franchise.
So, really, the conversation ends there. But if we must continue, we’ll just point out that while the jump from college to the pros can work (Billy Donovan, Brad Stevens), the situation has to be just right in order to help the coach succeed, regardless of their talents. There’s no denying that Rick Pitino and John Calipari are great college basketball coaches (off-court issues aside). But both flamed out in the NBA because they walked into untenable situations that demanded way more than they were capable of delivering.
Stevens left Butler for the Boston Celtics with the very clear understanding that he would be rebuilding from the ground up and that he would be given plenty of rope (and time). Donovan eventually left Florida for Oklahoma State and took over a team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in its lineup. Different scenarios, but each one created clear avenues for success for both coaches.
Meanwhile, if Wright goes to New York, he’s walking into an obvious rebuild (because the Knicks are perpetually rebuilding) but without the safety net that Stevens got in Boston. The expectations will not allow him to come to Madison Square Garden and rebuild for three years. Just ask his predecessors. And the fact that he’ll get a huge contract only drives those expectations home further. Sure, the Knicks could luck out in 2019 in the free agency market, but much like the Cleveland Browns, there are few people who expect the New York Knicks to be able to make the right moves in the offseason.
Imagine Jay Wright giving up what he’s built at Villanova, and what could lie ahead in the next ten years, for a failed three-year stint with the Knicks where everyone said it was a bad idea from the start. Sure Wright could return to college basketball and quickly recover, but it would be such a lost opportunity for him and for Villanova.
If the Wildcats rip off another title or two in the coming years, who knows where Jay Wright’s head will be at? It wouldn’t surprise anyone in the least if he decided he’d accomplished everything he wanted to at the college level and wanted to give the pros a shot. More power to him. But to consider leaving his current situation for the mess that is the New York Knicks just wouldn’t be very smart.
And Jay Wright seems like a pretty smart guy.