DePaul fires Leitao seeking spark for once-proud program

March 15

CHICAGO (AP) — DePaul fired coach Dave Leitao on Monday six years into his second tenure in another effort to lift a once-proud program.

The Blue Demons went 5-14 overall in a season that started about a month late because of COVID-19 issues. They finished last in the Big East for the fifth straight year at 2-13.

DePaul beat Providence in the conference tournament before getting knocked out by Connecticut. Now, the search for a new coach is under way.

“After evaluating where our men’s basketball program is currently and where we envision it to be moving forward, a decision was made to make a change in the head coaching position,” athletic director DeWayne Peevy said in a statement.

He thanked Leitao “for his many contributions to the program” and said a national search for the program's 15th coach will begin immediately.

Leitao, signed through the 2023-24 season, was 127-146 over nine years at DePaul. He is 212-241 in 15 seasons as a college head coach, with stops at Northeastern and Virginia.

The Blue Demons went 58-34 from 2002 to 2005 with winning records in all three seasons as a member of Conference USA and its most recent NCAA Tournament appearance in 2004.

But they were nowhere near as successful his second time around.

DePaul went 69-112 with losing records in four of the six years since Leitao returned in 2015 playing in the tough Big East. This season was particularly rough, with the Blue Demons posting their worst winning percentage (.263) since the 2010-11 team went 7-24 (.226).

All eyes are on Peevy, hired in August to replace the retiring Jean Lenti Ponsetto. He spent the previous 12 years in Kentucky's athletic department, going from a role in media relations to deputy athletic director.

Now, it's up to him to find the right coach to fix a program that once ruled winters in Chicago. The Bulls' dominance with Michael Jordan and the steady decline in recent decades after late Hall of Famer Ray Meyer built a powerhouse has pushed the “Little School Under the L” into the background.

The Blue Demons played before mostly sparse crowds in the years prior to the pandemic. That didn't change with the move from Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont to the sparkling Wintrust Arena in the city's South Loop in 2017.

DePaul has been upstaged by another Catholic school about a 25-minute L ride north of the Lincoln Park campus, with Loyola Chicago making the 2018 Final Four and getting back to the tournament this year.

Despite playing in a city with plenty of recruiting opportunities, the Blue Demons have posted losing records in 13 of the the 16 seasons since they moved to the Big East. They finished last in the conference for the 11th time in 13 years.

DePaul lost all 18 league games in 2008-09 and went 1-17 in the conference each of the next two seasons under Jerry Wainwright, interim replacement Tracy Webster and Oliver Purnell. Leitao, who left for Virginia in 2005, had a rough time in his second tenure.

His only winning season since his return was in 2018-19. The Blue Demons went 19-17 and reached the College Basketball Invitational championship.

The NCAA suspended Leitao for the first three games of the 2019-20 season and placed the program on probation for three years, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The Blue Demons got off to a 12-1 start and beat NCAA runner-up Texas Tech. But tailed off, finishing with a 16-16 record. The school then announced a contract extension through the 2023-24 season, with Lenti Ponsetto citing the “improvement and stability that coach Leitao has instilled.”

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