DePaul's Leitao hire not forward-thinking

Dave Leitao is returning to DePaul to coach the Blue Demons, 10 years after first leaving the program. AP Photo/Joe Raymond

CHICAGO -- On Sunday afternoon, DePaul managed to do the impossible: It made news during an Elite Eight game.

Sure, it was people on Twitter making fun of its recycled hire of Dave Leitao to coach the men’s basketball program.

It makes sense. Few pay attention to DePaul outside of its farcical coaching searches and arena updates.

The program is so far below the radar in Chicago, none of the media outlets has a regular beat writer covering what is arguably one of the top college basketball programs in the Chicago and/or Rosemont area.

I’m told The DePaulia, the school paper, still covers the team.

Leitao left a plum gig as an assistant at, um, the University of Tulsa, to return to DePaul.

Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell had career-ending stints with the Blue Demons, and now it’s back to Leitao to resurrect the program.

Everyone wanted DePaul to zig and hire a “young” successful coach to breathe life into the stagnant program. With a new downtown arena supposedly opening for the 2017-18 season, it seemed like a good time for the change.

So, of course, DePaul zagged.

Did DePaul pick Leitao over the likes of rising coaches Bobby Hurley and Bryce Drew? Or did the up-and-comers turn down the program? I’ve heard conflicting stories. Both scenarios make sense. Those guys can get better jobs and athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto is known for making head-scratching decisions, including using a search firm for this hire.

How will this decision play out? Who knows? A local high school coach laughed on the phone when I called him about Purnell’s hiring five years ago.

From what I've heard, local coaches never took to Leitao, who came from UConn. He didn't make inroads in the city and that hurt the program, preceding Lenti Ponsetto's bad coaching hires.

Before you make the joke, yes, Pat Kennedy was available. His two-year stint at Pace University just ended this month. Next stop for Kennedy, who went from DePaul to Montana to Towson to Pace, is coaching the old cast of “Hang Time.”

At least Kennedy knew how to recruit Chicago. While I thought Hurley would be a good choice because he could land players from the East Coast and Chicago.

Leitao's résumé is good ... for DePaul. He is the last coach to have success at DePaul, fleeing to the University of Virginia before the school made a wholly unsuccessful move from Conference USA to the Big East.

He went 58-34, 30-18 in conference during three years with DePaul. He even won an NCAA tournament game in 2004. But that was Conference USA. He had one good year at Virginia, and after getting fired in 2009, has been a D-League coach and an assistant for Missouri and Tulsa.

“I underestimated what a special place DePaul University and the city of Chicago are when I left here in 2005,” are words attributed to Leitao in the school’s press release.

As are these: “The dedication and support here to the growth of student success is second to none, not only for a basketball program but also for the entire student body. I’m proud and our team will be proud to represent this great institution in one of the world’s great cities. We will exude the work ethic that drives Chicago and the region every day and look forward to everyone joining us next season.”

The press release was so uninspiring, it included a mention that Dorell Wright signed a letter of intent to go to DePaul under Leitao, before going right to the NBA. So they're bragging about guys who didn't go to school under him?

It also included a long quote from women's coach Doug Bruno. I guess they had space to fill?

Old is new again at DePaul, a program that is forever living in the past and never realizing that future.