Dave Leitao insists he's right coach to turn around DePaul
Mar. 30, 2015
CHICAGO (AP) — Dave Leitao can understand why someone might think DePaul is simply standing still by dipping into its past and hiring him as coach for a second time.
That doesn't mean he agrees.
Leitao insisted at Monday's introductory news conference that he will move the program forward and put the recent losing in the past. He faces a big task as he tries to bring the Blue Demons back at least to the level they were at when he coached them from 2002 to 2005.
DePaul went 58-34 during his first tenure and made the NCAA Tournament, something it has not done since then. There was some thought that the Blue Demons would hire an up-and-coming coach to replace Oliver Purnell, who resigned this month.
"Getting a coach to move a program, any program, is not about a profile," Leitao said. "Profiles to me satisfy people for a day. It's about people. I truly believe I'm that person whether I was here before or not. What I did yesterday — good, bad or indifferent — I believe I am that person."
He insisted that DePaul is looking toward the future and not simply stuck in its past, and that any negative perceptions about his hiring will change once the wins start to accumulate.
That's something that has not happened in a long time at the "little school under the 'L' tracks," as Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer called it.
DePaul hoped it would under Purnell, but he went 54-105 in his five seasons, including a 15-75 mark in the Big East.
"Dave was proven here," athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said. "We knew that Dave could be successful. Within the university community, you could see there were a lot of people who really liked the idea. I get the part that some people won't and he's going to have to prove that. I've lived in Chicago long enough to know that if you win anything, people are going to come out and watch it."
Leitao led the Blue Demons to three postseason appearances, including a trip to the NCAAs in 2004, before taking over at Virginia. The fact that he left DePaul before was not a big issue this time around for Ponsetto. She said she was disappointed back then but understood.
"I recognized and understood the time when Dave was here, as a young coach the possibility existed that he may go someplace else," she said. "I would have been naive not to think that."
Leitao spent four years at Virginia and was Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year in his second season.
He also spent time coaching in the NBA Development League before serving the past three years as an assistant to Frank Haith at Missouri and Tulsa.
Leitao takes over a program with seven straight losing seasons since reaching the 2007 NIT under Jerry Wainwright, including a 12-20 mark this year. It was the sixth time in seven seasons the Blue Demons hit the 20-loss mark.
He was able to orchestrate a quick turnaround at DePaul the last time, leading the Blue Demons to a 16-13 record in his first season after they won just nine games the previous year.
Why has DePaul been in decline since he left?
"That's not for me to know or understand," Leitao said. "I know both gentlemen (Wainwright and Purnell) with some intimacy, and I know them to be very good people and extremely good coaches."
DePaul has struggled to tap into Chicago's rich talent pool, something that Leitao will try to change. Playing most home games before small crowds at Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont, as the Blue Demons have since 1980, has not made things easier.
DePaul is scheduled to move into a new 10,000-seat arena in the city, although it will still be a few miles south of the Lincoln Park campus.
"I tried when I was here before not to allow that (playing in Rosemont) to be a crutch," Leitao said. "You build it and they will come, people will show up to see a winner. That's what we wanted to build. Having this arena come up at this time, the history of DePaul basketball and its rich tradition will be added to because it will be something as a symbol and a place.
"It will be a great welcoming place for our fans and a negative environment for our opponent."