DePaul fires Wainwright in fifth season

CHICAGO -- Jerry Wainwright said he made sure his players kept up with their class work and conducted themselves properly off the court, two of his top responsibilities as head coach at DePaul.

What he didn't do, especially the last two seasons, was win enough games.

Wainwright was fired Monday with the school mired in a 22-game regular-season losing streak in the Big East. Assistant Tracy Webster took over for the rest of the season on an interim basis.

"The job is performance-based, as well, when it comes to success on the court and unfortunately that didn't take the turn we were hoping it would," athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said. "I think we got off to a good start, but it was becoming apparent over the last couple of weeks that things weren't quite going in the direction that we'd hope they would."

After a 5-1 start, the Blue Demons are 7-8, including 0-3 in the Big East this season, Wainwright's fifth at DePaul. He had two more years left on his contract.

"Obviously I didn't win enough to achieve the success that was expected in this area," Wainwright said as he read a statement at a news conference.

"They are not that far away from being successful on the court. ... they do need a bounce or two and something good to happen for them. And when that happens, the sky is the limit," he added.

The 63-year-old Wainwright did not take questions and entered the news conference on crutches after breaking his leg when he was hit on a play near the bench during last Wednesday's 99-72 loss to Villanova. The blowout turned out to be his last game with the Blue Demons.

"I have absolutely no regrets," he said, adding he was proud to have coached at DePaul, the school made famous by legendary coach Ray Meyer.

DePaul hasn't won a regular-season conference game since March 2008 and last season was an embarrassing one for a program that was once a national power. The Blue Demons upset Cincinnati in the first round of the conference tournament last year but finished 9-24 and 0-18 in the Big East.

Wainwright becomes the fourth Division I coach to leave his position since the season started in November. Glenn Miller (Penn) and Dereck Whittenburg (Fordham) were fired and Terry Dunn (Dartmouth) resigned.

Ponsetto said the school would begin a national search at the end of the season, adding that recruiting -- both in Chicago and nationally -- would be a priority. She said she wants to hire someone who will make the Blue Demons competitive in the very tough Big East and maintain the academic integrity. She said meeting a big salary for an established coach would not be a deterrent.

Ponsetto said DePaul is very competitive in the Big East in other sports, but bringing in top athletes is a must in men's basketball.

"In Jerry's first couple of years he beat a lot of the top-level coaches in the Big East. He demonstrated he could compete against Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun. He had some success," Ponsetto said.

"This is a man's league where a lot of professional athletes are developed. ... You got to be able to have a talent level at that caliber."

Webster will be the coach for the rest of the season and could get the opportunity to apply for the permanent job. He was an assistant at Kentucky, Illinois, Purdue and Ball State before joining DePaul last April.

Webster and players were not made available for comment Monday. Ponsetto described the players as "heartbroken" when she informed them of the change, a decision she made late last week after meeting with Wainwright.

DePaul went 20-14 and made the NIT in 2006-07, its lone winning season under Wainwright, who took over in 2005-06 after eight years at UNC Wilmington and then three at Richmond. During those 11 years, his teams made the NCAA tournament three times and reached at least 20 wins three times.