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Villanova’s Jay Wright — and his wife — passed on allure of UCLA

Bel Air is kind of nice, "but it ain't Radnor."

Villanova's Jay Wright reportedly passed on an offer from UCLA that could have doubled his salary.
Villanova's Jay Wright reportedly passed on an offer from UCLA that could have doubled his salary.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

You’ll see those palm trees and the perfect sunny skies, just don’t be hypnotized by the sights of Beverly Hills or a Pacific Ocean overlook in Malibu or even UCLA’s gorgeous campus. For Villanova’s basketball team, this isn’t some surfing trip this week to Los Angeles … no need to buy a map of the stars’ homes.

Jay Wright said he worries about such things. How to make this a great trip for his players while still a business trip.

Late Friday night, Wright’s Villanova basketball squad, ranked fourth in the nation, has a major readiness test inside fabled Pauley Pavilion against second-ranked UCLA. One of those two teams was in last season’s Final Four, and it was not Villanova.

As it happens, if there’s anyone who knows how not to fall for all UCLA has to offer, it’s Jay Wright.

» READ MORE: For its first 40 minutes, Villanova looked as good as advertised

Yes, there was a job inquiry a couple of years ago, Yes, Bel Air, just across the street from UCLA, is kind of nice. Did Wright ever get as far as having that conversation with his wife, Patty?

“I honestly can’t remember,” Wright said Tuesday after Villanova took care of Mount St. Mary’s in its season opener.

He called to his wife, talking to somebody nearby. She might remember better.

This is a story all about how no Prince of Bel Air ever showed up from just west of Philadelphia.

Wright rarely says much or even acknowledges the job inquiries he’s gotten over the years. The list of suitors may be long, from Kentucky way back when to all sorts of NBA teams. But UCLA absolutely makes the list, maybe more than once.

Often, there is no actual offer in these matters until there is interest expressed, but the Los Angeles Times reported in 2019 how much UCLA was ready to pony up for Wright after first trying to lure John Calipari to Westwood. The Times printed a message from UCLA’s senior associate athletic director leading the coaching search to donors, mentioning all the targets after advanced negotiations with Calipari broke down.

The list is a run through the A list of the sport: Brad Stevens. Tom Izzo. Billy Donovan, Mark Few. Tony Bennett.

And Jay Wright, just coming off two national titles in three seasons.

“We would have loved for Jay Wright to walk out on the floor, but even when we offered to double his salary, he still wasn’t coming,” Josh Rebholz, the UCLA administrator, wrote to some donors, according to the Times. “Nothing we can do about that. But I am proud of our effort. We didn’t assume anything, took our shots and I believe will end up with a solid coach who will embrace UCLA and build a program we all can be proud of and root for.”

Of course, UCLA ended up with Mick Cronin, more than a solid coach, as Philly hoops fans know from Cronin’s years coaching Cincinnati. That Final Four appearance didn’t just fall in UCLA’s lap.

For his part, Wright never has much to say about such overtures. According to a USA Today coaching database released in March, Calipari at Kentucky topped men’s basketball coaches in total pay with just over $8 million per year. Next, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, retiring after this season, but until then second with just over $7 million per year. Third: “Jay Wright of Villanova … with just over $6.1 million.”

That figure has gone up in recent years, obviously. The outside suitors, which reportedly included the New York Knicks, are part of it. But more than that probably is how Villanova has been able to increase its own endowment after the 2016 and ‘18 NCAA titles. Those new dormitories on Lancaster Avenue don’t pay for themselves, at least not right away.

In recent years, it became obvious that colleges calling Wright weren’t getting much interest back, even a school that has won the most NCAA titles. According to USA Today, Wright was making $3,878,768 in 2019, so UCLA’s offer to double him, assuming that was the actual plan, could have pushed Wright to over $7.75 million.

Wright will turn 60 in December. He went into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His legacy is tied forever to Villanova. Wright also always talks about how great it is to coach college hoops in Philadelphia, how they love you when you win but even after bad losses, sports radio still is just talking about the Eagles, in or out of season.

» READ MORE: Brandon Slater's role at Villanova didn't happen overnight

Of course, college hoops isn’t exactly tops on the overall priority list to most citizens of Los Angeles. Wright has been around, including in Tokyo this summer as a USA Olympic men’s basketball team assistant. He once was a Rollie Massimino assistant at UNLV.

The gates of Bel Air, leading to some of the fanciest real estate on the planet, are right across from UCLA’s entrance.

No conversations?

“We probably did,” Jay Wright said.

Patty Wright walked over, joined the conversation … how, you know, Bel Air is kind of nice.

“But it ain’t Radnor,” Patty Wright said right away.

Her husband laughed. She laughed.

“I’m kidding,” she said, and they both laughed again.

Nothing more needed, end of conversation.