Jay Wright's Culture
There are four Wright quotes that shed insight into his leadership beliefs.
In 2016, Villanova had the basketball with under 10 seconds left against North Carolina for the National Championship. As the clock ticked, Nova’s Kris Jenkins attempted a buzzer-beating three-pointer, while Coach Jay Wright looked on from the sideline.
As the ball left Jenkins’ hand, Wright offered little reaction, only saying the word “Bang” to himself. When the ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net, Wright pivoted like a soldier on the parade field and walked toward the Carolina bench to shake hands.
No one could’ve acted cooler or calmer than he did after reaching the highest point of an illustrious coaching career.
Last week, Wright walked away from the game after 21 seasons as the head man at Villanova. He led the Wildcats to 16 NCAA tournament appearances, four Final Fours and two National Championships. Wright accumulated 642 wins over his 26-year career as a head coach and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Fame last year.
What made Wright so successful? What made him such a great leader, able to elevate Villanova’s basketball program to an elite level where it was always competing for titles?
Wright understood his strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and thus developed a culture centered on his skillset. He defined the type of character acceptable to recruit.
Wright knew he could teach the game, knew he could improve every player in his program. So he did what all great culture builders do: he built his program inside out, not outside in. He only recruited players who fit the mold he created, never deviating or becoming sidetracked by the star-rating system or, perhaps more importantly, what his competition was doing. He stayed in his cultural comfort lane, never wavering or succumbing to the temptation to alter his beliefs.
Here are four quotes from Wright that shed insight into his leadership beliefs.
“We have a saying that everyone’s role is different, but everyone’s status is the same. It’s a reminder that no matter how bright the spotlight gets, we are all part of something much larger than ourselves.”
Wright wanted players who would understand the difference between coaching and criticism, which then would allow his talents as a teacher to improve the skill set of the individual and the team as a whole. Everyone must accept coaching, regardless of the role. And like all great cultures, the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.
“The most important characteristic any of us have is our attitude. It’s a concept that permeates everything you do. We all bring our attitude to every situation.”
Wright looked for good players with great attitudes who would then develop into great players. He wasn’t interested in de-recruiting a player, he wanted to teach the game of basketball. If a player didn’t have a great attitude, Wright would be worthless as a teacher.
“We're not complex in what we do X-and-O-wise, but we do spend a lot of time on how we react mentally to every situation.”
What Wright was saying was that the Villanova basketball team wouldn’t beat itself. They would play smart, play hard, and be prepared for every situation on the court. Simple allows teams to play smart, which then allows more complexities from game to game.
“If you think about how good you are as opposed to what the next challenge is going to be, then you’ve already lost. We have to stay humble.”
Wright wanted players to focus on the moment, not become distracted by outside influences. He wanted players like himself, who always wanted to improve and never feel contentment.
Wright was authentic in the culture he created because the culture was based on his life beliefs. And those beliefs are relevant far beyond the basketball court.