The Oliver Purnell era for the DePaul Blue Demons seems to be coming to a close. Not because the school is looking to fire him or anything like that, though. It has more to do with the university riding out the duration of his contract and dealing with the repercussions of the program being in a mess for it. Really, because the athletic department chose saving money over winning, DePaul kept Purnell around so they would not have to pay more than one basketball coach at a time and the program has his punch-line, laughing stock status.
To add some depth to this story, believe it or not, DePaul was once a storied program. The Blue Demons had the Chicago area locked down for any potential top recruits, were major players on a national stage and even managed to stay relevant long enough to stay aligned with the Catholic Seven — which would eventually earn themselves new Big East Conference television deal money.
Sadly, the glory days of DePaul basketball seem like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
That is basically the only good thing that could be said about the DePaul program for over a decade now, however. Between being perennial cellar-dwellers of both versions of the Big East as well as holding onto a coach who has never won more games than he has lost, Blue Demons basketball is essentially a running joke in the college basketball community.
Unfortunately for Oliver Purnell the majority of DePaul’s failures as a program will land on his shoulders. Not that he doesn’t deserve his fair share of the blame or anything. Over four full seasons with the program Purnell has amassed an astonishingly wretched 42-77 overall record and a putrid 9-57 in-conference mark. That in-conference record was not a typo. Read it again: An Oliver Purnell DePaul basketball program has managed to win a measly nine games in 66 attempts. For the non-math majors out there that’s a .136 winning percentage — or as the cool kids call it, atrocious.
In fact Purnell has never led the program to a record of above .500 or better. His best season — if you could call it that with a straight face — was his second year with the program in the 2011-12 season, where he helped the Blue Demons win a whopping 12 games, three of those coming in the Big East. Although, to be marginally fair to Purnell, his third year did come with the team’s best finish in the league, as every year except the 2012-13 season resulted in DePaul finishing in last place of the conference. That season resulted in them finishing second to last. So, hooray moral victories or something — likely something, but DePaul basketball.
Luckily for the DePaul fanbase this is the assumptive last season with Purnell. His contract is up, which means the athletic department will likely move on, and the chances of him coming back are about as likely as Christina Ricci going on a date with me because she thinks I am hot.
Even with that being said, though, the failures of the Purnell era should not be squared solely on the shoulders of the coach. There was a time — a long time ago, mind you — when Oliver Purnell was looked at as a good coach. He once took Clemson to three NCAA Tournament appearances in seven years (a .605 winning percentage too). So, the idea that he just became a horrible coach overnight is insane. The argument could be made that he may have been overrated or carried during his Clemson — or to a lesser extent his Dayton and Old Dominion — runs before that, but he has had success in the past. Until, you know, he became the head coach of the DePaul Blue Demons.
Before Oliver Purnell came to the university to continue the trend of driving the basketball program to the ground a guy named Dave Leitao ran the show. Leiato was hired in 2002 after a six-year head coaching hiatus (his last season before that, in ’96, saw him go 4-24 at Northwestern). He lasted all of three seasons with the program because bad basketball coaches don’t tend to last long. He did, however, win more games in his three years with the school (58) than Purnell has in four (42).
Give the program credit, though. They canned Leiato. Granted, that was after they hired him despite no resume stating he would have any kind of success, but don’t worry about those semantics. The athletic department made a solid hire after the Leiato firing with the acquisition of Jerry Wainwright. Again, because DePaul, this is where the real legend of DePaul cellar-dwelling begins.
Wainwright, who did manage to earn DePaul 20 wins in a season once, only finished with a .500 or better overall record. That was in the 2006-season where he would lead them to an NIT Quarterfinals appearance. So, yay, DePaul hoops. Fast-forward a few years later and the coach would be ran mid-season.
Since it has become a recurring them here, re-read the last sentence above. No, really, I’ll wait…
The athletic department, all the way back in 2009, cared enough about their program that they gave their coach the ax in the middle of the year. Why is that noteworthy? Because Oliver Purnell, naturally.
Purnell’s failures as a head coach are obvious and as clear as the skin on the face of an Oxy Maximum Action Spot actor in a commercial. There is almost no defending his teams’ inabilities to win games over the last four years. However, the fact that he is still with the program going into the final year of his deal will be his actual lasting legacy, as it highlights the university’s lack of caring for their basketball program. Or, really, their more caring for the money the basketball program brings and their ineptitude to do anything with that said money to make it better.
Something I think some people figured out at some points during the last two coaches’ tenures, but is painfully obvious now.
Does Oliver Purnell care about winning basketball games? I would like to think so. Heck, it is probably a safe bet. It is not like he doesn’t still attempt to recruit, coach and whatever else comes with being the DePaul coach at a high-level. Yet, I don’t think the same could be said for the university as they let a coach ride out his contract despite no evidence that they should — other than saving a few bucks and spreading that basketball money to other ventures.
So, while Purnell is on his likely farewell tour this season just remember all the great things we realized because of his tumultuous tenure. Good coaches at some places are not good coaches when they move to others, DePaul would prefer the city’s tax payers to pay for a stadium for a program that they have made unwatchable for over a decade and the Blue Demons have an athletic department that apparently gives less poops about winning than a constipated polar bear watching her infant float out to sea because of global warming.
Thank you, Oliver Purnell. You will always have a soft spot in my heart for exposing the DePaul athletic department and anyone who runs the school who claims they care about anything other than bringing in more money to put in their pockets.
*Section Photo credit to Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to FoxSports