Villanova had just beaten Hartford last week up at Mohegan Sun. There was a postgame Zoom media conference, Jay Wright on it.
Last question, Dan Gelston, Associated Press.
“Good, ‘cause it’s a good one,” Gelston said. “Are you out of clothes, or a fashion statement with the white belt?”
That had been Villanova’s fourth game up at Mohegan Sun. The question hit on a theme of this pandemic college hoop season. Coaches aren’t dressing up. Which means the coach who long ago retired the title of best-dressed coach in college basketball isn’t garbed in a suit.
How was Wright feeling about all this?
“Yeah, I hope it goes into the future,” Wright said on the Zoom. “I’ve long contended this is how we should dress for games.”
It’s not like Wright came up with the idea of dressing up. Go to a Villanova practice, he’s not wearing the finest wool. He’s in sweats. Go back in the archives, to see former Villanova coaches, you’ll see Jack Kraft in suits of various shades, and Al Severance, Villanova’s coach from 1936-61, dressed up. (Hey, there’s Severance wearing a bow tie.)
What’s interesting about dressing this season, the games are still televised. The only difference is whether there’s a crowd in the place or not. In one sense, this is giving coaches an excuse to dress down.
“The only reason I wear a suit -- I think a lot of us -- just out of respect for the game,” Wright said. “And out of respect for the great coaches like Nat Holman and Frank McGuire and everybody who started this and dressed that way. But this is how we really should dress. It’s sports. We’re in a game.”
It’s funny how sports have long had their own dressing traditions. Baseball, Connie Mack was famously an outlier way back, wearing a suit in the dugout. You’re used to seeing the manager and his coaches in baseball uniforms, for no great reason other than tradition. Football? Tom Landry used to set a well-dressed standard right up to his fedora. Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat was his trademark. Now? Bill Belichick and his ratty sweatshirts set a standard of anything goes.
College hoops developed a little wrinkle over the years, where coaches at sun-splashed holiday tournaments wore a kind of island decor, almost as a message to recruits -- look where we’ll take you.
That makes sense in Hawaii, but it became a thing even if you were in, say, Charleston, and it was 47 degrees outside. The apparel companies jumped on it, seeing the advertising possibilities, producing specialty shirts for their affiliated coaches just for the tournaments. (It’s hard to put a Swoosh on a suit.)
This season’s theme is more like, playing the game, happy to be doing it in 2020. It just gets a little more interesting when you see Wright dressed this way. When his team got to its first Final Four in 2009, our paper featured an interview with Wright’s tailor.
“He’s in the basketball business, so like most of the people in the business, he likes the longer jackets, but he wants to be a little more elegant,” said Gabriele D’Annunzio, a native of Abruzzo, Italy, now in business for more than half a century. “A lot of people are not that detail-oriented with the clothing. Men get a little funny about being too fussy, not that he’s fussy. But he’s got a good eye. He knows what looks good.”
The story by Ashley Fox noted the two sides of Wright’s personality and how they melded: the fashion sense that Wright credited to his mom and the obsessive coach in the gym. Now that Wright has won a couple of NCAA titles, maybe his clothing choices have added stature. Nobody has accused Wright of being an empty suit.
This season’s attire also reflects society during the pandemic, where so many are either dressing down or dressing way down. Dressing up would be like overdressing.
But that belt? On the Zoom, Wright answered the question.
“I was thinking white belt, white shoes,” Wright said. “Past Labor Day, I may have overdone it a little bit.”
Wright’s tailor couldn’t be reached for comment.
“He’s off Mondays and Tuesdays,” said someone answering the phone in the shop in Newtown Square. “Unless he calls in, we don’t really bother him on his days off.”