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Meet Kyle Neptune, the Villanova Wildcats’ New Leader

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Sideline Photos for Villanova Athletics

It’s official: Kyle Neptune takes over for Jay Wright as the new Villanova University men’s basketball coach.

While fans, the media and virtually anybody who’s ever watched a Big Five basketball game tried to figure out the real reason behind Jay Wright’s decision to depart as the Villanova University men’s basketball coach after 21 successful seasons, Kyle Neptune had some big news for fashion fans. “Father Peter already threatened me,” Neptune said at the April 22 press conference announcing the change in leadership, referring to Villanova University president Father Peter Donohue. “He told me we have to bring suits back.”

In the aftermath of COVID, coaches across the country—including the sartorially spectacular Wright—mothballed their suits on game days in favor of more casual athletic gear. Neptune didn’t. During his single season directing the Fordham University program, Neptune and his staff dressed as if it were 2019. At last week’s press conference, Neptune looked sharp in his blue suit. More importantly, he appeared calm, despite a whirlwind few days that elevated him from the man who somehow won 16 games last year with the Rams, who managed only two triumphs the previous season, to leader of one of the nation’s most successful programs.

Neptune is following a man who has been responsible for much more than basketball success at Villanova. He’s replacing someone who helped the school move into the national spotlight—and not just on the hardwood. “We all have an extreme, monumental task,” Neptune acknowledged last week.

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Sideline Photos for Villanova Athletics

This past April, the college basketball world was rocked by announcements that Duke. University’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams would be stepping down. Williams left immediately, while Krzyzewski orchestrated a year-long tribute that ended when Williams’ replacement, Hubert Davis, led the Tar Heels past Duke in the Final Four. This April, it was Wright’s turn. Citing an inability to muster the necessary drive to lead a top-five program, Villanova’s winningest coach announced his retirement.

Enter Neptune, who spent nine years as a Nova assistant before heading to the Bronx. Although Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson said Villanova “considered a number of candidates,” there was no question the school wanted Wright’s successor to have strong ties to Villanova and an intimate knowledge of the process he’d put in place.

Neptune knows Wright’s assistants, and all are returning. He’s familiar with many of the players, including guard Caleb Daniels, who transferred to Villanova in 2019 but had to sit out a year. “I know a lot about him,” Daniels said. “I learned a lot through my redshirt year. He pushed us every day.”

Neptune began his coaching career at Villanova amassing a video database for scouting with what’s now considered prehistoric equipment. Neptune was so proficient at the job that other Big East schools would reach out for clips when they drew unfamiliar opponents in the NCAA tournament. Now, Neptune faces a significant challenge, taking over at a time when the Big East has added three new coaches: Shaheen Holloway at Seton Hall, Thad Matta at Butler and Sean Miller at Xavier. All have experienced big NCAA Tournament success. It’s likely those schools will step forward and join Creighton, Connecticut and Marquette in what will be a more formidable neighborhood. But Wright is convinced Neptune is the right man for the position. “The year before he left [for Fordham], I kind of saw he was ready to go,” Wright said.

Neptune’s job on the Main Line involves more than just making sure the Wildcats remain national powerhouses. During Wright’s tenure, Villanova went from a regional to a national presence. Its admittance rate dropped from 46% in 2016 to 23% this year. Its applicant pool jumped 59% from 2013 to 2022, and its cost of attendance ballooned from $58,245 in 2014-15 to $77,705 for the upcoming school year. The program’s success also bolstered fundraising, as the recent building boom on campus indicates.

Neptune steps into a position that’s become extremely intertwined with Villanova’s overall success. He’s also the first-ever Black head hoops coach at Villanova. “I’m thrilled about that,” Neptune said. “Any example I can give to help younger African Americans—especially males coming up—is great. I’m excited to be an ambassador.”

The task ahead won’t be easy, but Neptune understands how the program works, why it was successful and what’s expected. It’s also worth noting that UNC’s Hubert Davis followed Williams’ three national titles with a national title game in his first season as head coach. Neptune hopes he can do the same. “For me, I’m just excited to be the coach here,” he said. “I’m among family and friends, and I want to keep going. It’s a high bar and a standard of excellence.”

Related: From the Archives: Why We Love Villanova Coach Jay Wright

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