DETROIT -- Jay Wright is about to lead Villanova into its first Final Four since the Cinderella Wildcats won it all under Rollie Massimino in 1985.
But if things had unfolded differently a few years back, Wright could have ended up as the head coach at Big East rival Rutgers.
It was the spring of 2001 and Wright had earned back-to-back America East Coach of the Year honors at Hofstra University on Long Island. Rutgers was looking for a coach to replace the fired Kevin Bannon and athletic director Bob Mulcahy invited Wright to interview for the job.
"Jay was my first choice," Mulcahy said Thursday by phone.
"I went to Bob Mulcahy's house and of course I told our athletic director I was going to meet with him," Wright said Thursday in the bowels of Ford Field, where his team will meet North Carolina in a national semifinal on Saturday. "He is a Villanova alum so I knew he and his wife. I went to the house and we had dinner together. We stayed up until 2 in the morning just talking about what I would do if I got the job."
Wright recalled that the meeting took place on a Wednesday, and Mulcahy recalled it as a Thursday. Either way, they agreed that Wright would return to meet Rutgers University president Frances L. Lawrence that Sunday at a breakfast.
"He said the only reason he wouldn't accept the job would be was if Villanova was open," Mulcahy said. "And Villanova wasn't open. And we agreed to meet on Sunday."
But two days before the scheduled meeting with Lawrence, fate struck. Steve Lappas quit as the Villanova head coach in order to take the job at UMass.
"Nobody ever thought the Villanova job was going to come open," Wright said. "Nobody thought Steve Lappas was going to leave and go to UMass, so it wasn't even part of your thought process."
The following morning Wright got a life-altering phone call from Villanova president Ed Dobbin.
"The Villanova president called me and offered me the job," Wright said.
Asked if Dobbin knew Wright had been on the Rutgers campus interviewing and wanted to beat Rutgers to the punch, Wright said he wasn't sure.
"You never know," Wright said. "It's one of those things, you never know."
Wright met with Villanova officials that Saturday night to accept the job and then tried to reach out to Mulcahy that Sunday morning to let him know what was happening.
"I couldn't get him on the phone because he was in a meeting, so I had to drive up there," Wright said.
When Wright met Mulcahy, he said: "Bob, I want to talk to you."
"Meet with Greg first. It's his kid's birthday. He's gotta go," Mulcahy said, referring to Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano.
So Wright and Schiano -- two Bucknell graduates -- went off in a room to talk.
"Greg, I'm going to take the Villanova job," Wright said.
"What?" a shocked Schiano responded, according to Wright. "You gotta let me try to talk you out of it."
"It's home," Wright, a Churchville, Pa. native, told Schiano. "I would've taken this job, but it's home."
"Well you gotta sit in here with me for 15 minutes because I can't let Bob think I didn't try to talk you out of it," Schiano said. "I gave it my best shot."
"So we talked about our kids, Bucknell, and then I went in and told Bob," Wright said with a laugh. "Bob was great because he knew. He's a Villanova guy. He wasn't happy, but he knew. It's the only job I would take over this."
Recalled Mulcahy: "He was very straightforward. His integrity was unimpeachable. I love the guy. I respect him tremendously. I have nothing but respect for him.
"This was the job he wanted. He was very up front with me. The only thing I can say, at that time he was my first choice."
Fred Hill was an assistant at Seton Hall at that time, and when Tommy Amaker left Seton Hall for Michigan, Hill had a choice of going to Michigan or staying near home.
"When we went to Villanova, we hired Freddie," Wright said.
Hill later left Villanova to become an assistant under Gary Waters at Rutgers, who was hired in April 2001 after Wright took the Villanova job. During his four years at Villanova, Hill was a major factor in the recruitment of Villanova's highly acclaimed recruiting classes of 2002 and 2003 that included Randy Foye, Mike Nardi, Kyle Lowery and Allan Ray
Hill became the associate head coach under Waters for the 2005-06 season and when Waters was let go, Hill became the head coach.
In three years with the Scarlet Knights, Hill owns a record of 32-60, including a 8-44 mark in the Big East.
Yet Wright believes his former assistant -- who is signed through 2012-13 -- will get it done.
"Yeah, definitely," Wright said. "No doubt. And Freddie can get it done, no doubt. I just don't want it to be at the expense of Villanova."