DePaul and head coach Oliver Purnell have parted ways with two years left on his contract, the school announced. The veteran head coach, known for his ability to turn programs around, couldn’t do so at the Big East program and finished 12-20 (6-12) this season in his fifth year in charge.
The school announced his resignation on Saturday.
“It is my best interest and my family’s best interest to resign as head coach of the DePaul basketball program,” said Purnell in the official release. “We made progress here and improved with the talent and character of our student-athletes. DePaul provided complete support and is fully committed to its basketball program with its budget, the on-campus facilities and in the future with the new events center. I would like to personally thank the University community, fans and student body for their support and thank the student-athletes for their efforts over the last five years.”
Purnell signed a seven-year deal with DePaul in the spring of 2010 and finished with a 54-105 mark at the school with an astoundingly bad 15-75 record in the Big East. The 61-year-old Purnell has been a Division I head coach for 27 years and was finally fired for the first time on Thursday. The former head coach of Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson has never won an NCAA Tournament game.
While Purnell should certainly shoulder much of the blame for DePaul’s failures during his tenure, he did have an uphill battle from the start following in the footsteps of former Blue Demon head coach Jerry Wainwright. Wainwright left the cupboard about as bare as it could be when he was let go at DePaul and Purnell definitely had his work cut out for him trying to get Big East-caliber talent in place.
It also didn’t help matters that DePaul has some of the worst facilities of any power conference program in the country. A new arena is being built for DePaul basketball near Chicago’s South Loop and they’ll try to find a new head coach who can bring excitement back to a once proud program. The new arena should be ready by the start of the 2017-18 season.
In a pro sports market like Chicago, DePaul has gone from a national powerhouse that once made Final Four appearances and produced NBA draft picks to being largely irrelevant. Attendance has plummeted over the last 10 years and local media coverage of the program has become nearly non-existent.
Firing Purnell seems like the first step in a new direction, but as long as athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto is in charge, there is cause for concern. Lenti Ponsetto hired both Wainwright and Purnell and both men were clearly wrong for the job.
If you include the half-season under former interim coach Tracy Webster after Wainwright was fired mid-season in 2009-2010, DePaul basketball was 114-200 overall and 36-143 in the Big East under those two coaches hired by Lenti Ponsetto.
DePaul made the NCAA Tournament in all but three seasons from 1976 to 1992 but has only made two NCAA Tournament appearances since.