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Jay Wright might've been fired if he was a football coach

Jay Wright is the reigning king of college basketball. The Villanova coach on Monday night became the third coach in the past 30 years (Coach K and Billy Donovan being the others) to lead his team to two national titles in a 3-year span. His program building is the best in the game, his offense is the envy of the sport, and he's bought Villanova a membership to the country club of college basketball blue bloods.

Wright was hired in 2001, a 40-year-old George Clooney look-a-like lured away after winning two straight conference titles at Hofstra to replace Steve Lappas, who never led Villanova out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in nine seasons and missed the Big Dance entirely in three of his last four campaigns.

Wright was hired to end that streak, but three years in he had yet to do so. He was 21-27 in Big East play, battling an off-the-court scandal and firmly on the hot seat heading into Year 4.

"One of my friends, Dana O'Neil, was our beat writer," Wright told CBS Sports's Garry Parrish in 2016. "I remember sitting down at breakfast. She said, 'You know what I have to write, right?' I said, 'Yeah, I know.' She said, 'This is it. You could get fired at the end of the year.'"

Wright broke through to the Sweet 16 in 2005 -- Villanova's first since 1988 -- and made the Elite Eight a year later. After a first round exit in 2007, he was back in the Sweet 16 in 2008 and took Nova to its first Final Four since its 1985 national title in 2009.

And then the program started backsliding. A second round exit in 2010. A first round bouncing in 2011. Then Villanova missed the postseason entirely in 2012 with a 13-19 season, the school worst season in 14 years.

By this point, Wright had been at Villanova 11 years, and he'd just turned in a worse season than the one that got his predecessor fired. At another school, or in another sport, it's easy to see how Wright could become a victim of his own expectations. Close your eyes and you can see the message board posts: It's time for new blood. Wright has accomplished a lot here, but he just doesn't have it anymore. This is VILLANOVA, for goodness sakes!

Villanova returned to the Dance in 2013, but the Wildcats were a No. 9 seed and lost in the first round. Villanova turned in a spectacular regular season in 2014, with a 28-4 record and a Big East title, but was blown out in the second round by No. 7 seed Connecticut. The 2015 season was even better: A Big East regular season and tournament title, a 32-2 record and a No. 1 seed. But the Wildcats again lost as heavy favorites in the second round.

Again, the Wright era seemed at a crossroads. Wright was 13 years in by now. The Final Four run was ancient history by now. He'd built Villanova into a program that could win in January and February, but couldn't get it done in March. Don't take my word for it. Check out these tweets OKTC uncovered.

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Needless to say, no one's saying that today.

From ESPN:

But Monday's win has taken Jay Wright to a place few coaches ever go. Wright is just the third active coach with multiple NCAA championships and just the second coach in Division I history with four straight 30-win seasons.

Bill Self is the other, and Wright's Villanova team dismantled Kansas so thoroughly in the national semifinal here that Self sat flabbergasted on the sideline, unable to conjure an answer for the offensive balance, efficiency and depth that defines these Wildcats.


SAN ANTONIO -- Jay Wright came here with one of the greatest collegiate offenses of all time, a well-oiled machine that was hurtling Villanova toward one of the finest five-year stretches in modern college basketball history.

Now, he's leaving San Antonio with his second national title in three years.

But look deeper and you'll see he's leaving with so much more:

• An assured place in the Hall of Fame. "It's just a matter of when they can start voting for him, and then he's a unanimous vote," Wildcats alum and current Chicago Bulls guard Ryan Arcidiacono said Monday night, after Villanova crushed Michigan 79-62.

• Blueblood status for his school. The toughest club to crack in college basketball is the blueblood club. It takes into account a program's sustained history of excellence as well as its current winning ways. Villanova won 165 games during this five-year stretch; that ties an all-time record. Since Villanova won its first national title in 1985, here are the programs that have won three or more national titles: Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UConn. Wright has turned Villanova into a blueblood. Period.


Nine years ago, when he led his team to a Final Four for the first time, Wright figured that feat would be the highlight of his career. Now he was asked for his thoughts on joining Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the only active D-I coaches with multiple titles.

“Wow,” Wright said, eyebrows arching. “Not something I like to think about, honestly.”

There are still parts that will take some getting used to in this new, wonderful world.

So what's the lesson here? Not every coach on the hot seat will win his way off of it, and even fewer will join the elite of the elite of their sport. Wright improved in his craft along the way, tinkering with his scheme and course-correcting in recruiting after his initial success led him to chase talent over fit.

But Villanova had its coach, one who understood the school and represented it in the right way. One, too, who was willing to grow and learn and improve. And then it trusted him to do that. Villanova didn't bail on the Good Ship Wright at the low point of the wave, because it trusted the high point was coming.

It's here now, and the big blue wave of Wright's Villanova program is now a tidal wave that just submerged the rest of college basketball.