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DePaul basketball: Cleveland Melvin's departure means the time for change is now

Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 17, 2014 14:02


File Photo | The DePaulia

Since coming to DePaul in 2010, head basketball coach Oliver Purnell has a 8-59 record in the Big East.

That’s where Ponsetto finds herself. And it might be time she gets the boot.

A common defense is that DePaul is still easing its way into the Big East. Nothing could be further from the truth. The new Big East is weaker than it’s been in decades and the results are the same. DePaul is not the first team to make a switch like this. Missouri and Texas A&M moved to the SEC from the Big 12 in 2012 and have been wildly successful in football; neither team was particularly dominant in their prior conference but A&M has been a perennial Top- 25 team and Missouri played in the conference tournament. Making the switch is tough, but other programs have proved that a quick turnaround is possible. Moving to a better conference is supposed to draw better recruits. It’s supposed to increase your level of play. DePaul’s been working at this for nearly a decade.

Ponsetto can stay in the athletic department—she’s earned it—but someone needs to step in and run this basketball team more efficiently.

Unfair? Yes. But necessary? Certainly. Twelve years of ineffectiveness is far too much. At a major university with big-money sports teams, Ponsetto would have been gone long ago. The men’s team hasn’t just played badly, they've played horridly. And the nail in the coffin is that there have been absolutely no signs of improvement. No signs of hope. Only empty seats and barren box scores, with not even the faintest reason to believe it could change.

Pressing Purnell

Purnell arrived with a reputation for turning teams around. No matter where he coached, he always found a way to win. DePaul was a particularly large challenge—the fan base was waning, the stadium was too far away, and lack of success had tarnished the program’s reputation.

It’s not hard to argue that Purnell has, for all intents and purposes, failed in every way. Despite those challenges, there has been nothing to be proud of. This is especially true on the recruiting side.

Purnell can claim all he wants that the University of Illinois steals all the good recruits, and that programs like Kentucky and Duke poach the highest-ranking Chicago talent. DePaul has a rich basketball history and the Midwest is the hotbed for high school talent. If Purnell can’t recruit Chicago, Indiana, and Michigan - three areas with enormous amounts of talent— how can he possibly lead this team into the future? His highest-rated recruit, Billy Garrett Jr., likely would have gone elsewhere if his father was not an assistant coach on the team. Purnell’s most prosperous recruits, Melvin and Brandon Young, are both from Baltimore and, despite putting together a pair of decent careers in Chicago, would likely be role players on most BCS conference rosters. They have been good for DePaul, there’s no doubting that, but there’s also no question they haven’t improved in the slightest over the last four years. Melvin, in particular, has failed to get better. After winning Big East Rookie of the Year as a freshman, his stats remained static and his defense is still questionable. Purnell simply hasn’t gotten the best out of his players, be it Melvin and Young or former Blue Demons like Moses Morgan and Donnavan Kirk. Purnell needs to go. Similar to Ponsetto, it’s unfortunate and unfair. While the blame on Purnell is inescapable, his track record still indicates that he’s one of the finest coaches in the country. Perhaps his personality doesn’t click. Maybe he’s not comfortable recruiting in the Midwest. Perhaps the program is too damaged for even a coach of his caliber to fix. Still, you can’t convince me or anyone else that teams like Creighton (Omaha, Neb.), Providence (Providence, R.I.) and Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio) have a better recruiting edge in their respective areas than DePaul. Purnell is a proven commodity, but he obviously does not belong in Chicago.

Changes on the horizon

Ponsetto and Purnell each have contracts extending through 2017. I hate to say it, but it would take a huge amount of guts for anyone to keep those contracts on the books for that long. If there was some semblance of improvement, then maybe. But DePaul basketball has become a laughingstock, and things need to change.

A final, damning comparison resides in Dallas under the watchful eye of 73-year-old Larry Brown. Brown took the reigns at Southern Methodist University in 2012 to turn around a program that hadn’t been the NCAA Tournament since 1993. SMU finished 15-17 as a member of Conference USA in Brown’s first year, finishing second to last in a conference that had only two tournament teams and boasted such “powerhouses” as Rice, Tulane, and East Carolina. Like DePaul, SMU made the jump—this time, a move to the newly formed American Athletic Conference, of which they became a member in 2013. The level of play has been much higher in the AAC than SMU played in C-USA. Brown’s squad routinely battles perennial powers like Memphis, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and last year’s national champion Louisville Cardinals. Yet SMU currently stands at 20-5 with three wins against Top-25 AAC teams (including a 21-point rout over then-No. 7 Cincinnati) and is ranked No. 23 in the country.

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Sun Feb 23 2014 21:32
Great piece. I for one am disgusted by the bizarre and inexplicable politics on display within the institution. It's a shame. It seems like you didn't get to say everything you wanted/needed to in this article. I can't blame you for not wanting to press certain matters more intimately.
Thu Feb 20 2014 14:27
The sad part of the Ponsetto -Purnell regime is DePaul continues to make the same stupid mistakes on the basketball court. The defense allows a layup drill for opposing teams, while the offense lets Brandon Young hog the ball and not pass the ball to open teammates. Obviously Purnell is not a good coach.
Why can Marquette be successful and not DePaul? The administration needs to fire JLP and OP before the program looks more like Loyola!
Wed Feb 19 2014 23:44
Thank you very much for writing this article. I'm just old enough to remember Ray Meyer still coaching, and can't believe what has happened to this program. I love college basketball and I love DePaul, even though I went to NIU. It is a huge embarrassment what has happened to this program. It seems like the President and the Board don't have a clue or don't care one iota. Not that athletics should run any university, but the men's basketball program is a laughingstock in the country, and that hurts the entire University. I can only hope someone makes a couple good decisons and DePaul basketball becomes relevant again.
Wed Feb 19 2014 20:35
Bravo. As I watch DePaul getting blown out by over 20 points yet again, I find it criminal that JLP is using our tuition money to pay this chump 80k for loss after loss. Time to clean house. We're all sick of it
Tue Feb 18 2014 23:45
#$#%^^ YEAH! Please fire JLP
Tue Feb 18 2014 15:32
I will never donate to DPU or attend another game while JLP is still there.
Tue Feb 18 2014 12:46
Most accurate article The Depaulia has ever published. Students and Alumni are not content with the men's basketball program. JLP and OP need to be replaced well in advance of the move to the arena. If not, what's the point of spending so much money on a brand new arena with a team that is the laughing stock of college basketball?
Tue Feb 18 2014 10:08
Outstanding article. It is time to clean house NOW. The longer OP and JLP are running this program, the further it will fade into irrelevance.
Mon Feb 17 2014 21:52
Someone needed to write this. thank you
Mon Feb 17 2014 21:45
Thank you for writing this article. The AD needs to be fired as soon as possible and something needs to happen with this team. With the coming of a new facility the program needs to be completely re-done. Hopefully the administration will understand this and make the right change.
Mon Feb 17 2014 18:32
Great article. OP and JLP are stealing money. JLP has ruined DePaul basketball and is NOT doing her job. If someone is not doing their job they should be fired. Thats how the world works
Mon Feb 17 2014 11:41
This article was spot-on. Time to clean house!
Mon Feb 17 2014 11:40
This article was spot-on
Mike from MPLS
Mon Feb 17 2014 10:30
Well written article, this program needs revamping and it starts at the top. The real question is how much has JLP's tenure devalued my degree?
Mon Feb 17 2014 09:52
David - I want to shake your hand and buy you a beer. Thank you for having the courage to speak the truth.
Mon Feb 17 2014 09:47
Outstanding work young David. For far too long DePaul has allowed JLPs "love" for DePaul to cloud their judgement of her ability to manage a big time program. Two bad hires makes a trend. Not only does Oliver need to be fired, but also JLP; or at least be reassigned. One thing is certain, neither deserve the chance to "fix" the problem. The losing was accepted in Years One and Two while Oliver shaped the team, but Years Three and Four have been atrocious. If DePaul believes one more season of Oliver at the helm will "fix" the problem they're sadly mistaken. Recruiting has come to a grinding halt and no 2015 or 2016 kids of note are considering DePaul. Blow it up and bring in a new coach and give him two full years to build the momentum he'll need when the new arena opens. I hope the DePaul Administration recognizes this and takes the necessary steps. if not, they should expect fewer and fewer fans and interest in this program. It's a shame what has been allowed to happen to DePaul basketball. One of the biggest reasons this university grew up was thanks to its basketball program. Fix the problem DePaul and you'll gain more interest and more stature.

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