(Villanova head coach Jay Wright, far right, worked for the USFL's Philadelphia Stars which is where he met his wife, Patty (far left), who was a Stars and Eagles cheerleader)
This week in the City of Brotherly Love, all eyes are on Villanova University. For the first time since 2009, the Wildcats are set to compete in the Final Four and everyone in Philadelphia is anxiously awaiting the outcome of Saturday's game against Oklahoma.
For head coach Jay Wright though, support from this city is something he's experienced many times throughout his career - and not just as a basketball coach.
What many don't know is that upon his graduation in 1983 from Bucknell, Wright did not begin working in basketball. Instead, the Churchville, Pennsylvania native accepted a marketing job with the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League, which helped forge his path toward eventually becoming the Wildcats' head coach.
"The Stars were coming off their first summer where they went to the championship game," Wright recalled in a phone interview this week. "Carl Peterson was the general manager. Leo Carlin was the business manager and was with the Eagles for a long time. Dave Price, the old trainer for the Eagles, was our trainer. We had a lot of former Eagles people. Vince Papale was my mentor at my job. We all did marketing, sold season tickets and club luxury boxes.
"That year we won the championship. The championship game was in Tampa Bay and my wife, Patty, was a Stars cheerleader and then an Eagles cheerleader after that. She was also a marketing representative and that's where we met."
From there, things fell into place.
Following the 1984 season, Wright knew he wanted to pursue a future in basketball and when an assistant coaching job opened up at the University of Rochester, he decided to take a chance. However, he didn't expect Peterson, the Stars' president and general manager, to send a hand-written letter of recommendation on his behalf.
To this day, Wright has the letter that marks a small piece of his start in basketball. He was offered the job, accepted, moved to New York and then began working his way up the ladder.
"I would have been happy to be there at that level. I just loved coaching so much," Wright said. "If I could have become a Division III head coach someday, I would have been really happy.
"Once I got into coaching, I left Philly. I'm a Philly guy. Like everybody else from Philly, no one leaves Philly and I didn't want to leave Philly but I had to for that job. So, I never thought I'd be able to come back again. To be at home and to be at a school I was a fan of, because Villanova was my favorite team, is a dream. I never even imagined it."
Wright was hired as Villanova's head coach in 2001, allowing him to return to the city where it all began. It also meant he was once again in close proximity to the Eagles, a team he had supported "since birth" and one that was very much intertwined with his career path.
"My dad was and still is one of the biggest Eagles fans of all time, really our whole family," Wright said. "Our family gets together on Sundays to watch Eagles games. The whole family comes over and it's a big event at our house. This year we went to the game against the Redskins on the 26th of December. We were able to go down on the field before the game, see the players come out. I've never done that before.
"Then, Howie Roseman put us in a nice Eagles box. I've been to a lot of Eagles games, but at Veterans Stadium I used to be in the 700 level. So last year, that was the nicest experience I've ever had. We brought our whole family. We got a picture on the field. As a kid, Vince Papale and Dick Vermeil, (Ron) Jaworski, I was a high school kid coming up and that 1980 team was probably my favorite. My dad was a season ticket holder and was at the 1960 Eagles Championship game. I've actually been to Eagles games at Franklin Field, Veterans Stadium and now the Linc."
Throughout the years, Wright's Philadelphia fandom has translated over to his work. Since taking over as head coach, Villanova has made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances and according to Eagles Hall of Fame running back Brian Westbrook, that is not a coincidence.
"Jay Wright is a sharp mind, a sharp basketball mind," Westbrook said. "You have to remember, Villanova is a 6,000-student school. It's a small school. It's hard to recruit out there, but Jay has done a great job of getting good prospects there."
Despite the running back's remarks, Wright believes the recruiting process is bigger than that. It has to do with Philadelphia.
"When we play at the Wells Fargo Center, the whole city embraces us and it really helps us because we get connected to Philadelphia," Wright said. "All the recruits see that and they see the great atmosphere at our games and that's all the City of Philadelphia supporting us."
Wright and the Wildcats take on Oklahoma in the Final Four on Saturday at 6 PM and as always, the Eagles and the City of Philadelphia are behind them.