When Hofstra hired Tim Welsh as its new head men’s basketball coach last week, it brought an end to a 16-season era in which the Flying Dutchmen were either led by Jay Wright or someone from his coaching tree.
It did not, though, signal the end of Wright’s influence within and on the program.
At the press conference introducing Welsh, Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes said he consulted with Wright in the search for Tom Pecora’s replacement. And while Wright is the godfather of Hofstra basketball as we know it, his approval of Welsh wasn’t a necessary part of the process.
But it certainly didn’t hurt, either. Wright, who became friendly with Welsh in competing with him for New York-area players while Welsh was the head coach at Iona and Providence and coaching against him in the Big East from 2001 through 2008, told Hayes he thought Welsh’s personality and pedigree made him a good fit for Hofstra.
“He’s got great New York ties and I think he’ll respect the great tradition of Hofstra,” Wright said from his Villanova office Wednesday afternoon. “He’s good friends with Tom and myself, he knows how much we love Hofstra. He also understands the pride that we all took in New York basketball, and I know Tim does also. And I think Tim will understand how much a part of Hofstra basketball New York basketball is.
“I think [the Welshes will] love living on Long Island. His wife Megan and [Wright’s wife] Patty are friends, they know how much we loved living on Long Island. Tim will fit in well with everyone there—not just Jack but everyone in admissions and housing and on campus.”
Hayes’ consultation with Wright is alternately common and unique. Hayes said it’s routine for athletic directors who are seeking a head coach to speak with active coaches. Hayes’ instinct was always to replace Pecora with someone who had head coaching experience, but before he officially began the search process, he sought feedback from not only Wright but also Davidson coach and ex-Hofstra star Bob McKillop as well as Florida coach and Rockville Centre native Billy Donovan.
Yet Wright’s ties to Hofstra make his role in Hayes’ search particularly noteworthy, especially since Pecora’s top assistant, Van Macon, was also a candidate for the job and would have continued the Wright lineage had Hofstra hired him.
“You want to support Van, because he’s part of the family,” Wright said. “And then you also understand that the president and the athletic director have to make the decision for what is best at the time. I kind of knew they were going to go outside [the program] and just asked me more about Tim and I thought if you want to go outside the program, Tim is perfect.”
“I think when you build relationships in this business and you build trust in this business with athletic directors and coaches, then you’re able to have very useful conversations and very helpful conversations that aren’t necessarily slanted towards motives,” Hayes said. “That wasn’t the conversation that I had with any of those individuals. It was strictly about seeking their help on what’s their perception of the job.”
Wright said he was honored Hayes chose to consult him in his search for the new coach even though he didn’t work for either Hayes or president Stuart Rabinowitz and, following Pecora’s departure, had no familial connection to the program, either.
“I think Jack knows and Stuart Rabinowitz both know that my family still takes great pride in Hofstra and have great love for Hofstra and Hofstra basketball,” Wright said. “Hofstra University [is] very important to us and always will be. I would have been just as understanding if they didn’t include me in the process, because I’m [just] a fan and a supporter. But I did take great pride in the fact that they did consider my opinion.”
Consulting Wright in the decision-making process could pay future dividends for Hofstra and those within the athletic department while also solidifying and lengthening Wright’s ties with the school and creating a bond between the new coaching staff and the old ones.
“Maybe somewhere down the road, Jay is interviewing someone for some administrative position and someone from Hofstra has an interest in it,” Hayes said. “And all of a sudden I get a call now from Jay Wright: ‘We interviewed so-and-so, what can you tell [him] about them?’ I want to be able to be that same type of resource that he was for us.”
Said Wright: “We have a Villanova party every year at the Final Four and we have everyone who worked or coached at Villanova that is still in college basketball. But everyone at Hofstra is included in that because Tom always brought his staff. Tim automatically becomes a part of that family.”