NEW ORLEANS — The Villanova Wildcats’ Jay Wright has long been the don of the debonair among college basketball coaches. His rise to one of the sport’s elite coaches came accompanied by his stylish sideline suits, with no bold pattern left unworn.
As Villanova emerged as an A-list program and won national titles in 2016 and 2018, Wright’s outfits have become as much an identifiable trademark of Villanova basketball as the program’s devotion to pivots, shot fakes and making the extra pass.
On Saturday when No. 2-seed Villanova takes on the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks in the national semifinal of the NCAA tournament, Wright won’t be wearing one of his hallmark suits on the sideline.
“I don’t think I’m going to wear a suit because I don’t have one,” Wright said. “But it was nice. It’s easy packing.”
This development is likely jarring to the casual fan and completely unsurprising to those who follow the sport closely. Wright has spent the past two seasons dressing casually on the sideline, like most coaches. This is a departure from the coach whose two suits he wore in the title games in 2016 and 2018 are immortalized in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Much like an overwhelming majority of college and NBA coaches, Wright shifted to more casual looks when the sport returned after being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. It didn’t make sense to dress up for an empty gym.
That meant for Wright, three-quarter zips replaced the pinstripes, checkers and patterned ensembles that accompanied his rise as one of the sport’s top coaches. Wright’s longtime tailor, Gabe D’Annunzio, passed away last year. Wright told The Philadelphia Inquirer that D’Annunzio would tell him, “We need something that’s going to pop.”
This is Wright’s fourth Final Four and the first since casual sideline attire went mainstream. And so Wright joked that when he was packing, he called his sports information director, Mike Sheridan, to see if there were any Final Four events that required him to wear a suit.
Instead, the challenge becomes the entire coaching staff having coordinated athleisure outfits on the sideline.
“The hardest thing for me is we all dress the same, so we have the same shirt, the same — they send me pictures of what to wear,” Wright said. “I can’t tell the colors. I’m always nervous I match up the right gear. It’s difficult, when you wear a suit I just pick whatever I want to pick.”
A handful of college basketball coaches still wear suits, like Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Iona’s Rick Pitino, Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse and new Maryland coach Kevin Willard. In the other Final Four matchup, neither North Carolina’s Hubert Davis nor Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have been wearing suits during games.
Wright has left that world. And when he walks out onto the floor of the Final Four on Saturday in front of a packed crowd at the Caesars Superdome, Kansas coach Bill Self will be relieved. Self acknowledged the obvious fashion mismatch.
“Nobody could compete with him in that regard,” Self said. “But I kind of like the way we’re doing it. I do. I hope it stays casual moving forward. I know, I think our leagues will probably have a lot to do with what the coaches do, because in our league we voted to unanimously do this.”
While traditionalists and tailors will bemoan the end of an era, Self did point out one positive. “You save money on dry cleaning.”
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