It came as a shock to the basketball world when legendary Villanova head coach Jay Wright decided to retire after last season. Unlike Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who announced his retirement before last season, Wright kept it under wraps until Kansas eliminated Villanova in the Final Four.
Wright coached the Wildcats for 21 years and led them to four Final Fours and two National Championships.
Villanova has only had three head coaches since 1973. Steve Lappas coached Villanova for nine seasons before Wright, and Rollie Massamino coached for 19 years prior to Lappas.
The fourth coach, Kyle Neptune, assisted Wright from 2013-21 and took a head coaching job at Fordham for a year last season. He went 16-16 a year ago, before taking the Villanova job in April.
Villanova basketball’s 2-5 start to the season indicates it’s no easy task to replace an icon like Wright. If there’s one thing Villanova is used to, it’s stability.
Changing a legendary coach is hard
Two of Villanova’s most successful coaches, Massamino and Wright, each struggled in their first seasons at the school.
Before his rise to stardom, Wright’s first three seasons were far from great. He compiled a 52-46 record with no tournament appearances. Wright finally broke through in his fourth season, guiding the Wildcats to a 24-8 record and a Sweet 16 appearance.
Massamino faced similar struggles early in his tenure, too, going 16-38 in his first two seasons at Villanova. He didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament until his fifth season.
Massamino is most known for Villanova’s Cinderella run to the National Championship in 1985, when the Wildcats knocked off Georgetown. It’s still considered one of the biggest upsets in the history of college basketball.
Though Lappas did not have nearly the same success as Massamino and Wright, he made the NCAA Tournament in four of his nine seasons. It took Lappas until his third season to make the tournament.
Taking the reins of a top program isn’t easy even for the best coaches, which is good news for Neptune.
Stability of coaches at Villanova
In the 103rd season of Villanova basketball, Neptune is the ninth head coach in program history.
To put that in perspective, blue blood programs such as Duke (18), North Carolina (18) and Kentucky (21) all had significantly more coaches in program history than Villanova.
With that, all of the aforementioned programs have had, or currently have, legacy coaches:
- North Carolina: Dean Smith, Roy Williams
- Duke: Mike Krzyzewski
- Kentucky: John Calipari, Adolph Rupp
The stability of coaches at Villanova is truly remarkable.
Villanova Basketball’s rough start and upcoming schedule
With one of the best cultures in sports under Jay Wright, Villanova rarely had rough patches in a season, let alone rough seasons. Under a new voice such as Neptune’s, there are expected to be growing pains.
Villanova is 2-5 and have lost four straight to the likes of Michigan State, Iowa State, Portland and Oregon, all of which were unranked at the time. Villanova had not lost four straight games since 2012.
The road won’t get any easier as the Wildcats host Oklahoma on Saturday and have three more non-conference games before Big East play:
- Wed., Dec. 7: Penn at Villanova, 7 p.m.
- Sat., Dec. 10: Villanova vs. Boston College, 5 p.m. (Prudential Center)
- Sat., Dec. 17: Villanova at St. Joseph’s, 4 p.m.
No. 7 Creighton and No. 8 Connecticut are the only ranked teams in the Big East as of now, but the conference often boasts quality competition. Xavier, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette, Butler and St. John’s are expected to fight for NCAA Tournament bids.
Villanova kicks off Big East play against St. John’s on Dec. 21.
Winningest head coaches in Villanova history
Because of only having nine coaches in program history, the list of winningest coaches is short.
- Wright has the most with 520 career wins and a .725 winning percentage from 2002-22.
- Alex Severence coached the Wildcats from 1937-61 and recorded 413 wins, four NCAA Tournament appearances and one Final Four.
- Massamino is third all-time with 355 wins from 1974-92, with 11 NCAA Tournament appearances and one National Championship.
- Jack Kraft won 242 games from 1962-73, with six NCAA Tournaments and one Final Four appearance.