They say that a bad penny always turns up. Well, I guess that makes me like a “bad penny” because I have returned from Dublin and will be back at the keyboard here in Curmudgeon Central notwithstanding the lack of clamor for me to be so. Ironically, we experienced 7 consecutive days of sunshine in Dublin and now on our first day back in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, there is total cloud cover in the sky and the weather forecast has a 70% chance of rain later in the day.
I have a bunch of catching up to do, so let me begin with some thoughts about the retirement of Jay Wright as the Villanova head basketball coach. I do not know Jay Wright; I have never met Jay Wright. I do know several people who have known him for years and I have communicated with two of them since I read the news of Wright’s retirement. Both were shocked – – as was I – – at the announcement and all three of us think that college basketball is now missing a positive influence in the game.
Wright never competed in the college basketball “one-and-done sweepstakes”; he took players who were “3-star and 4-star” recruits who demonstrated that they were smart and that they were willing to be coached by someone who was genuinely committed to making them better players and better persons. And with those “lesser recruits”, Wright won two national championships while graduating a whole lot of the players who stayed at Villanova with the program. What Jay Wright did was to take the spirit of the NCAA rules and to abide by that spirit and still find ways to beat other teams who followed the rules as interpreted but gave the spirit of the rules a wink and a nod.
In 21 seasons at Villanova, Jay Wright made the Final Four four times and won the national championship twice. Playing in the highly competitive Big East for 21 seasons, his teams won 72.5% of their games. The man can coach, and he can develop players; the numbers say that, and the eyeball test confirms that.
I read speculation that his retirement from Villanova has a Machiavellian motivation.
- The Lakers need a coach.
- Current Sixers coach, Doc Rivers, seemingly wants that job.
- Ergo, Jay Wright is now available to take the Sixers’ job should it come open.
As I said, I do not know Jay Wright; and as I have professed here many times, I do not read minds. However, it does seem to me that if Wright really wanted a shot at the Sixers’ job in Philly, all he would have to do is place a phone call to the Sixers’ GM once Rivers departed to get himself an interview for the job. His contract with Villanova would not be an insurmountable barrier.
Personally, my guess – and I do mean guess – – as to the reason why he retired last week is that the landscape of college sports has changed dramatically in the last couple of years and maybe he just does not like what he sees as the new terrain. Let me be clear, there are two major changes in collegiate sports in the US which are positively motivated. Unfortunately, as with many things that are fundamentally good ideas, there are ways to take the edge off their beneficence.
- The first major change is having athletes get paid for their name, image and likeness (NIL). Fundamentally this is totally fair and probably should have been in place long ago. The problem is that the NCAA has turned over governance of this issue to anyone and everyone – – demonstrating conclusively to me that the NCAA is genuinely useless as a governing body. And the lack of governance means there are already huge abuses of the system. According to reports, boosters at Texas A&M pooled $25M this year to be paid out to football recruits. That was not the intent of NIL ab initio.
- The second change is the transfer portal. Of course, players should be able to move from one school to another just as chemistry majors can transfer from one school to another. However, the transfer portal has no costs associated with it nor is there any standardization regarding qualifications to be allowed to transfer – – as would be the case for most chemistry majors seeking to transfer schools. In the current environment, any player can decide to transfer if he is unhappy with the selection of condiments available in the student union cafeteria for his hamburgers.
I am not saying that NIL payments and the transfer portal are malicious and need to be expunged from college sports. I am saying that when you have a fifth-year graduate student playing in games at his fifth different school, there is something in the system that just might need to be corrected. The same goes for boosters amassing a recruiting war chest of $25M to get themselves a football team.
My guess – – remember it is a guess – – is that Jay Wright sees where this is going and that he decided it is not where he wanted to go. It is not nearly as easy to determine coach’s salaries as it is to determine pro athletes’ salaries, but if my calculations are correct, Wright has earned more than $30M over the last decade. To me, that means he is financially secure and does not need to spend time in his life doing something he prefers not to do.
- [Aside: If I am even nearly correct in my estimate of his earnings above, that also means he does not need a coaching offer from the Sixers to keep body and soul together.]
Personally, I will miss Jay Wright as part of the national college basketball picture. I think that the game itself will miss him even more than I will. Sic transit gloria mundi…
Lest I lose “curmudgeon cred” here with my praise for Jay Wright, let me offer one bit of criticism. For years Jay Wright’s presence on the sidelines was one of class; you could easily have labeled him as “Armani Jay” with his classically tailored suits and ties. He looked as if he had just finished a “fashion shoot” as he arrived at the arena for the game. Last year, Jay Wright took to wearing what looked like a sweat suit and walking shoes on the sidelines. I liked “Armani Jay” a whole lot better than last year’s “Gym Clothes Jay”.
Finally, since I have just returned from a week in Ireland, let me close today with an observation about Irish people by Samuel Johnson:
“The Irish are a fair people – they never speak well of one another.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………