Big East coaches tell us their stories of their first jobs in the business

Jay Wright (left) was worrying about floor hockey. John Thompson III (center) was learning under a master. Chris Mack (right) coached high school girls' basketball. The Big East coaches come from all sorts of beginnings.

Mich Schultz

The Big East season officially tips off Wednesday night with two conference games, both on FS1 — Seton Hall at Marquette at 7 p.m. ET followed by Georgetown at DePaul at 9 p.m. ET.

The conference is coming off a banner 2014-2015 campaign, one which saw six out of the league’s 10 teams make the NCAA Tournament. That was highlighted by Villanova — the Big East regular season and tournament champion — ending up with a No. 1 seed, and Xavier making it all the way to the Sweet 16. 

Still, that was the past, and now it’s time to look ahead to the future. And with all 10 Big East teams tipping off their conference-play seasons this week, we decided to have a little fun here at We tracked down all 10 Big East coaches and asked them, what was your first job in coaching? And what kind of crazy responsibilities did you have?

Here are the answers, starting with the coach of the defending Big East champion.


Jay Wright, Villanova:

My first job in coaching was …

I was an assistant coach at the University of Rochester, a Division III school. And I was also the assistant intramural director, and I was the head coach of the JV team.

So I had to get up 5:00 in the morning, because I’d have practice at 6 for the JV team. And then I had to work during the day as the intramural director, and then I had to practice the varsity team at 3, then go out recruiting at night. Then come back at 5 a.m. the next day and do it all again.

It was wild.

I’d be out recruiting and worried if I had referees for the floor hockey game set up. So I’d be in the gym calling back to the student volunteer assistants in intramurals saying, ‘Do we have officials for floor hockey?’ Or, ‘Is co-ed basketball set up? Do we have the shot clock set up?’

It was a good time in my life, I enjoyed it, but it was literally three jobs at once.

Chris Mack, Xavier:

My first job in coaching was …

(It was at) McAuley High School (an all-girls high school in Cincinnati). I was the JV coach. In girl’s basketball.


What was the craziest aspect of that season?

We had this (laughs) half-court trap (defense) that we used to throw on teams, and we wanted to get our team really inspired to trap hard, get turnovers. We sort of equated it (to) how, when you drop a goldfish in an aquarium with piranhas, the piranhas just go after it.

So every time we would win a game, I would cut out — of like material — a little goldfish; it was that material that you get at a fabrics store that you could iron onto a sweatshirt. So at the end of the year our kids’ sweatshirts had like 16, 17 goldfish on the back.

It was pretty cool, almost like the "Buckeye" on the helmet at Ohio State. It was like a badge of honor, every time we got a win.

Kevin Willard, Seton Hall:

My first job in coaching was …

I worked for the Boston Celtics. I was kind of a jack of all trades. I did advanced scouting, I did video, I did player workouts, I did it all. It was me and Frank Vogel, the head coach with the Indiana Pacers. Frank was the head video coordinator, and I was kind of under Frank. And we worked 20-hour days and we did just about everything that had to be done. But it was great working in the NBA, and for one of the greatest organizations in sports.

What was the craziest thing you had to do that season?

I think the craziest thing I had to do is that I had to go scout a preseason game right after training camp was over. And training camp was brutal.

Preseason had started and we were coming back from Mobile, Alabama. We landed, it was like 2 in the morning, and I remember Coach (Rick Pitino) saying he wanted us to go watch a game in Buffalo. And I hadn’t slept in two days, and I had to get in my car and drive all the way to Buffalo, scout the game, write something up, come back and hand in my stuff.


And I remember thinking, ‘If this is going to be my life, I’m not sure I’m going to make it to 23.’

Ed Cooley, Providence:

My first job in coaching was …

My first job was at UMass-Dartmouth as an assistant, and it was for $1,000 a year. And I was teaching in high school (on the side). I was a world history teacher at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School.

What do you remember about the curriculum of your World History class?

Nothing (Cooley said with a laugh). The Mesopotamians? I don’t remember much. 

John Thompson III, Georgetown:

My first job in coaching was …

It was at Princeton, I was a volunteer assistant. I was fortunate to come back and work for Coach (Pete) Carril (who Thompson played for from 1984-88). But the operative word there is "volunteer."

What was the craziest thing you were asked to do that year?

I can’t think of anything in particular. The good thing, the great thing about working for him is that you had to do everything. You had to be completely involved in every aspect of the job from scouting reports to player development, to working on the player schedules, to making sure the gym is ready, to travel.

I was lucky that he threw a lot on my plate.

Chris Holtmann, Butler:

Butler’s Chris Holtmann, on his first job: ‘I think I was the worst Hall Director in the history of Student Development.’

My first job in coaching was …

I was a graduate assistant basketball coach. But what actually put food on the table, is that I was a Hall Director at my alma mater (Taylor University, in Indiana). They were building a dorm. They didn’t have enough rooms on campus, so they put everyone in trailers over by the gym.

So I was what you called a "Module Leader," so I was the mod’s Hall Director. There were six to eight people living in these trailers at a time and fortunately I got through that year. It was just one year. I think I was the worst Hall Director in the history of Student Development. But like I said, it allowed me to put food on the table, and do what I wanted to do, which was coach.

So that was my first job in coaching, I was a graduate assistant, going to school at night to get my Masters.

Greg McDermott, Creighton:

My first job in coaching was …

Actually I was overseas playing professionally and the second half of my first season they let my coach go, and I was player-coach the second half of the year. So that was my first taste of it, and then I went from playing overseas that first year to being an assistant coach at North Dakota.

How many plays did you draw up for yourself that first season?

Almost every one (said with a laugh).

Dave Leitao, DePaul:

Dave Leitao remembers some crazy driving assignments from one Jim Calhoun.

My first job in coaching was …

It was Northeastern (working under Jim Calhoun), I remember it, June 15, 1984, was the day I was hired. My first trip was to drive to an All-Star game in New Jersey at Seton Hall. So I got in the car as a young guy, drive five hours, just trying to get my feet wet. Not understanding (how things work, I was) trying to recruit every good player that was there. But I do remember it distinctly, what I was doing, where I was living. It was a long time ago but you don’t forget.

What was the craziest thing Coach Calhoun made you do that year?

I had to drive to Philadelphia to visit a kid at lunch, visit another kid at dinner, and drive back in the same day. I had to drive six hours down, stay there the whole day, drive back.

(Similarly), on a whim he needed some stuff delivered to Five-Star (basketball camp), so (I had to drive from) Boston to Baltimore, then Holmesdale, Pennsylvania, and be back the next day.

That was probably more than anything; I spent 80 percent of my day driving. And there were no cell phones; you pulled over when you had to use the phone. So it was just you, the radio and your thoughts.

Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette:

Steve Wojciechowski spent his early days learning from the legendary Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

My first job in coaching was …

When I graduated from Duke I went to play professionally in Poland. I was trying to get my dual-citizenship so I could play as a local instead of as an American. I was there during the first year out of college. Then I came back to America and I was at Duke. So my first year in coaching I was 22, and I ended up coaching three guys I played with in my college career in Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell and Nate James.

What was the craziest thing Coach K made you do?

Fortunately he didn’t make me do anything too crazy. There were a few all-nighters that we pulled. Coach is big into watching the game film right after the game is played. And depending on what you’re seeing, those sessions could last well into the next morning.

Chris Mullin, St. Johns:

(Because this is Mullin’s first job in coaching, we decided to ask him what his first job was … period)

The New York Daily News, paper route. It was awesome. Put some money in my pocket.

What did you learn while working that job?

Consistency. Seven days a week, do your job, do it efficiently. It doesn’t have to be hard, but you do have to do what’s asked of you.

Aaron Torres is a contributor for Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or Facebook. E-mail him at