With Oliver Purnell Gone DePaul University Must Find Its Identity

With Oliver Purnell Gone DePaul University Must Find Its Identity

This afternoon Oliver Purnell stepped down as DePaul University Men’s Basketball coach after another disappointing season. In his five seasons, Purnell went 54-105 overall and 15-65 in Big East Conference play. Often the team looked over matched during these years but this year looked different.

The team started out with its best start in 20 years, last year’s Big East rookie of the year Billy Garrett Jr was leading the team and they went into conference play looking like finally, finally things had changed for the team from Belden Ave.

But the bottom fell out of this year, they lost 11 of their last 12 games and finished 12-20 and 6-12 in Big East Play. Granted they avoided finishing last for the first time in seven years but even I the hard core DePaul alum and former season ticket holder gave up on them.

And it seems like the players did too, they were a talented but not well coached team, lots of turnovers, fouls at inopportune times and poor clock management.

But also my beloved alma mater must admit that things have changed, this is no longer the basketball power it once was. That recruiting, coaching and AAU ball have literally changed the game.

All they have to do is look south down Halsted Street to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), they just fired their Howard Moore after he had another bad season. He was 49-111 overall and 17-67 in Horizon League conference games and was 10-24 this year.

And again for the upcoming NCAA men’s basketball tournament the state of Illinois might not have a representative again, while we watch our neighboring states like Wisconsin & Indiana have possibly multiple schools in the tournament.

But for DePaul its been 11 long seasons since they have been to the NCAA tournament, I had season tickets then, Dave Letaio was the coach and they won the regular season Conference USA tournament. As an alum and a Chicago kid who grew up when DePaul was the basketball team of the city (pre Michael Jordan), and when the Blue Demons are good, nothing is better.

We’ve had runs of great college basketball in this town, Loyola won the NCAA championship and broke racial barriers with a great team in 1963, DePaul made a NCAA final four in 1979 and both DePaul & UIC had good competitive teams through the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

But that’s a long time ago, the players of today don’t know what its like to have nationally televised games at home, star basketball players NOT go to out of state basketball powerhouses like Kansas, Duke and UConn.

Yes I do know there is a basketball program 120 miles south at University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana but they are a “bubble” team that has some success (that DePaul would love to have), but still have a ways to go.

The big thing here is DePaul must decide where to go from here. The days of getting a big name coach are long gone. Coach Purnell made $ 2,000,000 a year and had a seven year deal. That can’t happen again. Nor can we have a retread like former coach Jerry Wainwright who was hired prior to Coach Purnell.

As a lifelong Blue Demon fan who played pick up ball at Alumni Hall, knew players on the team during my time 20 years ago (when things first starting going down), this university must accept the idea of “small ball”.

First get themselves out of that deal to play in the proposed McCormick stadium project in the south loop. This team can happily play on campus at the McGrath Phillips Arena ( pre season games are played there and its a good atmosphere), it would build equity with the students on campus, be accessible and have a home court presence, not that barn in Rosemont. Though I know they have a contract out there, so either break that contract or just play it out.

I agree with finding a new coach and may I suggest cleaning house with the entire coaching staff and also a new athletic director as well.

But any new hire needs to understand the current landscape of college athletics, the NCAA and a urban, Catholic school with a lot of history. Men’s basketball is what DePaul used to be known for, the women’s team has been way more successful over the last 20 years but I’m not advocating to bring their coach (the wonderful Doug Bruno), to the men’s side.

The new hires need to be from the outside of our beloved school and must be willing to work with what the school has now. Not what it used to be, not “pie in the sky” plans for the future. The rest of the university has grown tremendously in academics, sciences and has turned Lincoln Park into a beautiful urban campus.

Men’s Basketball is no longer the calling card, so it must be treated as part of the school not all of the school and yes accept being a “mid major”. All they need to do is look to Butler in Indianapolis, a smaller school with a historic gym (Hinkle Fieldhouse), and a lot of history with good players, excellent coaches (that do move on to other jobs), and a rabid fan base.

So this can be done but it takes vision, hard work and not looking behind but being realistic and moving forward, the first move has already been done.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email charles.w.johnson@hotmail.com

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