Villanova beat North Carolina at the buzzer on Monday night to win the 2016 NCAA National Championship. It was a game for the ages, one that featured brothers playing against each other for the first time, several improbable shots, a 10-point comeback late in the second half, and an amazing reaction from Charles Barkley.
The most notable reaction came from Villanova head coach Jay Wright, whose emotionless expression did not change in the slightest even after Jenkins’ shot had splashed the nylon. Only after his assistant coaches jump on him does he raise his arms and flash a smile that, if anything, looks more confused than elated.
In his press conference after the game, Wright explained why he remained so stoic.
“About my reaction, when you’re a coach, you’re always thinking about the next play. I was really thinking, Is there going to be more time on the clock?” Wright said. “I’m the adult. I got all these 18- and 22-year-olds around me. They’re going to go crazy, and I’m going to have to get them gathered up here and we’re going to have to defend a play with 0.7 seconds. That’s what I was thinking.”
Even after North Carolina coach Roy Williams approached Wright on the sideline to congratulate him, he still wasn’t convinced that the game was over.
“Then Roy came up to me while I was still waiting to see if it was real. We embraced and had a really nice talk. Then I went to Terry, the official. I said, Is this done or is it not? He goes, I think it’s good, but it’s not official. So I was really just in coaching mode, you know.”
Wright’s explanation makes sense. We see that sort of obsessive focus from coaches across all sports, and it’s no coincidence that the coaches who look incapable of celebrating are often the same ones who regularly find themselves in the biggest games. Rarely do we see Nick Saban or Bill Belichick look anything other than slightly annoyed on the sidelines. Same with Gregg Popovich. We even see this sometimes from other athletes.
Remember in Super Bowl 50 when the Broncos scored a key touchdown, and the camera cut to a blank-faced Eli Manning in the stands? His explanation for why he wasn’t celebrating for Peyton echoes Wright’s explanation from Monday night perfectly:
“I was just focused on him going for two” Eli said. “The defense had to step up and make some stops.”
Wright, for his part, finally flashed a small smile when cutting down the nets. Only then, it seemed, was he willing to accept that the game was finally over and that his team had won it all.
David J. Phillip/AP