Jay Wright will begin his 21st season as a head coach this fall. Wright has exceeded expectations in his 14 years at Villanova, missing the postseason only once in his tenure. He's halfway towards 800 wins, which is the college coaching equivalent to the 600 home run club. Only 7 Division-I coaches have eclipsed the legendary mark, with future Hall-of-Famers Roy Williams and Roy Pitino looking to become the next members of the elite fraternity in the next few years.
Then there are the current crop of great coaches - the men that have made their mark before the age of 55 that we'll be discussing as possible candidates to break the all-time win record.
And while Coach K's record will likely be out of reach by the time he decides to hang up his suit (let's be honest, God has a better chance of telling Coach K when he's done), there sure will be guys gunning for his spot, moving past that 800 win plateau and into legendary coach status.
Jay Wright might not coach long enough to get to 800 wins, but don't look now, because he's headed in the right direction.
Wright currently has 408 career wins, and is on a steady pace to at least hit 700 wins by the time it's all said and done, which is more than Hall-of-Fame worthy. 18 Division-1 coaches to make 700 wins are currently in the Hall. Jay Wright definitely isn't Homer Drew, and hasn't needed to prove himself to the masses at a big school like Bo Ryan has had to do (for what reason, I don't know. Death, taxes, Bo), so given the expectation that Wright can keep Villanova as a top-3 team in the Big East, a 700-win clip should be more than enough to send Wright to Springfield.
Coach K earned his 400th win in an early 1993 match-up against Iowa - during his 18th season coaching D-I ball. John Calipari - the closest 55-and-under chasing 800 wins (currently at 597) - didn't notch his 400th win until February 2008 - his 16th NCAA season and 20 years after he began his coaching career at UMass. Jay Wright earned his 400th victory in his 20th season. It may be a few years after Coach K and Calipari got there, but it shows us one thing - it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Currently, Wright surrounds himself with pretty nice company. Joining the Nova coach as the closest to 500 wins are Steve Fisher (497 wins), Billy Donovan (486), Oliver Purnell (436), Kelvin Sampson (425), Steve Alford (413), Tim Floyd (408), Mark Few (403) and Mike Brey (399). All of those men, save Fisher, Purnell and Sampson, will likely be coaching in the next 15+ years, only making the race that much more interesting to watch. He's on pace with other great coaches, and with the current crop of leaders today.
What about his success at Villanova? He sits third all-time in wins at Villanova (286) and is an afterthought to eclipse Alex Severence and Rollie Massimino as the greatest coach in Nova history. Severence only made one Final Four, and he's tied Massimino in Big East regular season titles with 2. He's also a two-time Big East coach of the year, to go along with two America East coach of the year honors with Hofstra. Both Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun were named Big East coach of the year award four times, and John Thompson Jr. won it three times.
Of course, the one thing that separates Boeheim, Calhoun, Thompson and even Massimino from Jay Wright is the one thing every college coach yearns for - they cut the net at the national title game. Wright's closest call came in 2009, when Villanova was trounced by the eventual champion North Carolina Tar Heels. He's only made it out of the Sweet Sixteen once other time, way back in 2006. It's safe to say Wright hasn't been GREAT come tournament time, and hopefully that disappointing third round exit to former conference rival UConn will light a fire under Wright and his players in 2014-15.
Wright also hasn't had the players some of the great coaches were able to recruit. Only three of his former players are in the NBA - Randy Foye made 78 starts in Denver last season, Kyle Lowry was a hot commodity this offseason after leading the Toronto Raptors to a division title, and if Adam Silver was Roger Goodell, Dante Cunningham would be knee-deep in domestic violence drama. Cunningham was the last Nova player drafted back in 2009, unacceptable for a major basketball school. Wright not only has to produce a quality college basketball team, but it is his job, and the job of all great coaches, to produce NBA-ready talent. That is something that Wright hasn't done.
The pros and cons of Jay Wright are everywhere you look. He's a great coach that's not in the second-tier of top coaches just yet, but he has plenty of time to launch himself into that category. It helps that he no longer has to put himself against the Jim Boeheim's and Jim Calhoun's of the Big East - now he is the number one coach in a basketball-rich conference. All he has to do now is put all the pieces in place - the NBA-talent, the postseason success, and most importantly, a national championship - and a Hall-of-Fame bid could become more clear.
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