by Peter Christian
Oliver Purnell will cast aside his orange blazer and don something much more muted as the new head coach of the DePaul Blue Demons basketball team. The former Clemson coach was announced as the DePaul chief this morning and it came a bit as a surprise to those who have followed the DePaul situation closely.
Last season DePaul won only 1 game in the Big East (if you are unsure who they beat, just ask David Kay, but be prepared to feel the back of his hand against your jaw) and ultimately bid adieu to Jerry Wainwright on January 11th of this year. DePaul’s status has been a train wreck lately as they have watched their win total decrease for 3 straight seasons, finished with an above .500 record only once since moving to the Big East in 2005 and haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 2003-04 season. However, it appeared the DePaul athletic department wanted to regain some of the program’s luster as they pursued some pretty high profile coaches. Steve Lavin, Ben Howland and Reggie Theus were all linked in some form to the vacancy (which caused some giggles in the sports world when the job was even officially posted on DePaul’s HR website) but Lavin became the St. John’s head coach, Howland denied interest in the job and Theus was seemingly spurned for Purnell.
Purnell had moderate success in his 7 years at Clemson with a .605 winning percentage and making the NCAA tournament 3 times and has experience of resurrecting programs in the past as he led the Dayton Flyers to 2 NCAA tournaments and a 24 win season. However, he struggled in conference play while at Clemson (only 50-62 against ACC opponents) and has yet to win an NCAA tournament game in 6 tries. Though at this point, DePaul alumni would would likely be happy just to sniff the NCAA Tournament, regardless if they got bounced in the first round.
The move for Purnell is largely a monetary decision as he will get a significant bump in his $1.6 million salary but the hire for DePaul is a bit perplexing considering what they are trying to accomplish. Purnell has 20 years of NCAA Division I coaching experience and 7 of those years have been in a “Major” conference but his success can only be considered as moderate and he hardly seems like the coach that will bring DePaul to the level to be an elite Big East team. If anything Purnell will only lift DePaul to be a middle of the pack team instead of being a consistent cellar dweller in the Big East.
Did DePaul settle with Purnell? I think so. They had their sights set high initially and even when they brought them down by interviewing Reggie Theus it was targeting a coach who is on his way up, has a bright future, is a recognizable name to casual basketball fans and has a history with the city of Chicago. Hiring Purcell seems like a stepping stone to re-building the program into an average team that fights for a bubble spot (at least in a 65 team field) every few years, whereas it appeared that they set out to shoot for the stars and re-build into a team that wanted to compete for the Big East title. Instead, DePaul hedged and decided to hire the guy with the pretty orange coat.Follow paulmbanks