It’s been 19 years since Villanova conducted a search for a men’s basketball head coach. And if they’re forced into one this summer, the candidate pool could be deep.
The Philadelphia 76ers fired head coach Brett Brown on Monday after seven seasons and could target Jay Wright, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported, saying, “Keep an eye on the following potential coaching candidates, according to sources: 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, Clippers assistant Ty Lue, Villanova’s Jay Wright, and former Grizzlies and Kings coach Dave Joerger.
This isn’t the first time Wright’s name has been floated for an NBA job. This year alone, the Knicks and Nets were reportedly interested in him. If the Wildcats’ future Hall of Fame head coach does leave for the 76ers’ vacancy, who might Villanova target as his replacement?
Villanova’s longtime president Rev. Peter Donohue has never hired a men’s basketball coach at the university or anywhere else, nor has athletics director Mark Jackson. And neither have strong basketball relationships from past jobs to suggest an obvious candidate. This is a better job than it was 19 years ago. With all due respect to Hofstra and other comparable mid-majors, the Wildcats aren’t hiring someone like 2001 Jay Wright to replace 2020 Jay Wright, a two-time national champion who’s built the program into one of the nation’s best. This isn’t a Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, or North Carolina, programs who can hire almost anyone they want, but it’s not far behind.
Villanova has one potential in-house option in Kyle Neptune and two more potential options in recently departed assistants, Baker Dunleavy and Ashley Howard. Neptune has spent nine of the last 12 seasons on Wright’s staff and is considered one of the best recruiters in the nation. Dunleavy and Howard, meanwhile, left for Quinnipiac and La Salle in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Howard is from Philadelphia, played at Drexel and has spent 15 of his 16 years as a coach in Philadelphia, including five years at Villanova (2013-18). Any would lead a smooth transition but the trio has coached a combined 155 games, an obvious issue if Donohue and Jackson want experience.
Villanova must take their shots. They must call Tony Bennett, Mark Few, and Brad Stevens. If they can’t land the mega fish, could Gregg Marshall and/or Chris Beard be in play? Geographically, neither make sense. Beard has never coached in or anywhere near Philadelphia, nor has he spent much time recruiting anywhere in the northeast. Still, he’s in the middle of one of the most remarkable coaching jobs in college basketball history, only 47 years old, and widely considered one of the best coaches on the planet, as is Marshall.
Steve Pikiell is better geographical fit if Villanova people don’t care about hiring a guy from an improved but longtime bottom-feeding program. The Connecticut native has spent his entire career (and life for that matter) in the northeast, including 11 years transforming Stony Brook from an irrelevant Division-I newcomer into one of the nation’s most consistent mid-majors. And, most importantly, he’s winning at Rutgers, a program with 29 wins in the three seasons before he arrived.
Bobby Hurley is also a northeast guy who recruited the entire region during his mid-major run before heading west. With a modest base salary of $2.3 million, Villanova can offer a pay raise and one of the best jobs in America. His brother, Dan Hurley, could also be a candidate if Villanova can pry him away from UConn, where he signed a six-year, $18-million deal just three years ago. Kevin Willard also fits the northeast bill and has led Seton Hall to five straight 20-win seasons. And even after an underwhelming third season at Washington, Mike Hopkins might get a phone call from Jackson after working together at Syracuse.