The Student News Site of DePaul University

It's time to address the issues with the athletic director.

Athletic Director’s relative played key role in Wintrust agreements

The Chief Marketing Officer from Wintrust Bank has confirmed that Wintrust Executive Vice President and sister-in-law of DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, Kandace Lenti, was involved in the multi-million dollar Wintrust Arena naming rights agreement. DePaul officials have also confirmed that Jean Lenti Ponsetto never officially disclosed a conflict of interest form before engaging in the deal.

The 2017 Wintrust Arena agreement was touted by DePaul as a huge win for the university and Athletic Director Lenti Ponsetto. But there seems to be some family ties concerning Wintrust and Lenti Ponsetto that raise questions of nepotism and a potential conflict of interest.

Kandace Lenti is the Executive Vice President at Wintrust Bank. She was named by Crain’s as one of the 30 most influential women in Chicago banking and is credited on Crain’s website for helping to secure DePaul as a client.

Lenti is married to DePaul’s head softball coach, Eugene Lenti — also the brother of Lenti Ponsetto.

Although the details of the Wintrust agreement are confidential, it is estimated by Legends Sales and Marketing, a New York-based sponsorship consulting firm, that the naming rights deal could have been worth at least $22 million for DePaul. At around the same time, DePaul added Wintrust Bank as its exclusive on-campus banking institution to replace PNC Bank. Both the naming rights and banking agreement are potentially worth millions for both parties.

Under the agreement, Wintrust Bank is able to distribute and market to all of DePaul’s students, faculty, staff and alumni. Wintrust also received exclusive banking and ATM privileges on campus. With a total enrollment of over 22,000 students and a sizable alumni and faculty network, Wintrust gained access to a considerable number of potential new clients.

DePaul has a conflict of interest policy clearly outlined in its code of conduct that states, “DePaul requires all employees whose independence of judgment may be impaired by a potential conflict of interest to either refrain from the conflict or disclose the conflict to a supervisor.”

The conduct policy goes on to say, “In these and other situations, a completed Certificate of Compliance with Conflict of Interest Policy form (…) is to be completed and approved by the direct supervisor of the employee.”

But Lenti Ponsetto never disclosed a conflict of interest form, according to the university. 

When The DePaulia began investigating the connection between Lenti Ponsetto and Lenti, things got even murkier.

In order to best report this story, The Editorial Board decided to report our process and what it yielded.

Kandace Lenti’s connection

The DePaulia first approached Kandace Lenti on Tuesday, March 6. After identifying ourselves as reporters, Lenti said she was about to head into a meeting and directed The DePaulia to set up an appointment via email. She hung up the phone before The DePaulia could ask her any questions.

Kandace Lenti (left) of Wintrust Bank with her husband, head softball coach, Eugene.
Photo courtesy of Facebook

The DePaulia emailed Lenti minutes later, requesting an interview regarding the “Wintrust naming rights deal.”

“I don’t believe I would be the right person to talk to about that agreement at Wintrust,” Lenti wrote in an email. “I was not in the trenches of that agreement.”

The DePaulia then asked Lenti, again, to comment on her role in the Wintrust naming rights deal.

A day later, on Wednesday, March 7, at 2:39 p.m., The DePaulia received an email from Matt Doubleday, Chief Marketing Officer at Wintrust. Doubleday said that he would be “happy to answer” any questions The DePaulia had.

The DePaulia, instead, requested that Lenti respond to our questions herself and asked a third time.

On Friday, March 9, The DePaulia received a response from Doubleday. In his response, he said that Lenti is a “banker and the leader of Wintrust’s Government, non-profit & healthcare bank group.” He said that “(Lenti) counts DePaul University as one of her customers. If you have questions about banking, she’s a great person to know.”

Doubleday went on to say that he was the person to ask about “marketing, advertising and sponsorships,” and that he was the appropriate person to answer The DePaulia’s questions.

The DePaulia asked Doubleday, “Specifically, to what degree Kandace Lenti was involved in the naming rights deal for Wintrust Arena?”

Doubleday responded to The DePaulia the same day and did not refute that Lenti was involved in the negotiations. He said that Lenti’s “involvement on the Wintrust Arena naming rights was minimal.”

But Doubleday also said that “(Lenti) made introductions between DePaul and Wintrust leadership and attended most of the meetings we had.”

Doubleday also confirmed that Lenti was, in fact, the banker assigned to DePaul. Indeed, Lenti’s name appears on the banking agreement between DePaul and Wintrust, according to the agreement posted on DePaul’s website.

In the agreement, it states that “all notices” between the university and Wintrust should be sent to “ATTN: Kandace Lenti.” Lenti’s name appears twice in the agreement.

Jean Lenti Ponsetto’s connection

The DePaulia began the investigation into Lenti Ponsetto’s connection, by reaching out to a source who was involved in the day-to-day dealings concerning the Wintrust Arena naming rights deal. Due to reasons concerning their employment, the source wished to remain anonymous.

Wintrust Bank has five ATM’s throughout DePaul’s campus and access to the student body.
Jonathen Ballew | The DePaulia

The source said that Lenti Ponsetto was “involved in the process” and that she had a hand with “price points and deliverables.”

“Whatever is in the contract,” they said, “she was involved.”

On Wednesday, March 7, The DePaulia reached out to Greg Greenwell, Associate Athletic Director for Communications, asking if The DePaulia’s sports editor could ask Lenti Ponsetto “a couple of questions” after the DePaul Men’s Basketball game on Wednesday in New York City.

Greenwell responded by inquiring what questions The DePaulia wanted to ask Lenti Ponsetto. The DePaulia let Greenwell know we planned to ask about the Wintrust naming rights agreement.

After the game, Greenwell told The DePaulia that it was “not a good time” to speak with Lenti Ponsetto and that we could email him instead. Lenti Ponsetto did, however, have time to speak to the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday before the game.

The DePaulia emailed our questions to Greenwell but never received a response. Instead, we received a response from DePaul’s public relations department.

On Thursday, March 8, the DePaulia received an email response from Carol Hughes, of DePaul’s Office of Public Relations and Communications and one of DePaul’s top public relations officers, responding to The DePaulia on behalf of Lenti Ponsetto.

“The naming rights transaction was negotiated under the direction of the Board of Trustees by Jeff Bethke with the support of an external sports marketing firm who helped identify and recruit potential naming rights prospects,” Hughes wrote.

“DePaul Athletics assisted in providing corporate sponsorship and marketing elements and community outreach initiatives.”

On Friday, March 9, The DePaulia reached out again to Hughes asking, “Specifically, to what degree Jean Lenti Ponsetto was involved in the naming rights deal for Wintrust Arena.”

Hughes responded the same afternoon, saying, “We addressed that question in the previous response.”

Who is Jeff Bethke?

Jeff Bethke is the Executive Vice President at DePaul and was instrumental in the Wintrust agreement, according to Hughes and multiple other sources. The DePaulia reached out to Bethke’s office on Tuesday, March 6, and was told by a secretary that he was out of the office until Monday.

On the same day, The DePaulia emailed Bethke asking for Lenti Ponsetto’s role in the Wintrust naming rights agreement.

Bethke never responded, and on Thursday, March 8, Hughes contacted The DePaulia on behalf of Bethke.

In the past, Bethke has been very open and forthcoming with The DePaulia concerning the Wintrust agreement, talking to multiple DePaulia reporters.

Kandace Lenti’s name can be found twice on DePaul’s banking agreement with Wintrust.


At the conclusion of our reporting, The DePaulia asked Hughes a final question, on Friday, March 9 at 3:28 p.m.

“Did Jean Lenti Ponsetto at any point in time submit a conflict of interest form to her direct supervisor regarding her relationship with Kandace Lenti?” The DePaulia also requested that Hughes disclose the form if it existed.

On Friday, at 8:19 p.m., Hughes responded to The DePaulia with the following comment:

“(Lenti Ponsetto) was not required to complete a conflict of interest form.”

The DePaulia’s anonymous source said that while the lucrative banking and naming rights deals are not directly connected, they represent “a significant sponsorship relationship.”

The source said that “many different industries” other than Wintrust were approached by DePaul as possible partners. He said companies in the financial, auto, telecommunications and insurance industries were approached — these are the industries that typically sponsor major sporting venues.

Ultimately, Wintrust Arena was selected as the best sponsor and entered into a 15-year deal with DePaul.

“Our goal when this process started was to find a Chicago-based partner that holds similar beliefs and values to DePaul University,” Lenti Ponsetto told DePaul Newsline, DePaul’s public relations newswire service, in November, 2016. “And we feel we’ve accomplished that goal with Wintrust Arena.”

With family connections between Wintrust and the DePaul athletic department, it’s easy to see how the two could be a perfect fit.

  1. Doug Klain on March 12th, 2018 12:50 pm

    Great reporting here. Maybe JLP wasn’t trying to do something wrong and didn’t think she needed to submit a conflict of interest form, maybe the administration just wasn’t aware of the family connections, and maybe people at DePaul intentionally hid these things. Regardless, it’s hard to argue that someone in the DePaul Administration didn’t do something wrong here.

  2. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 3:51 pm

    I see it’s business as usual at DePaul Athletics. Cronyism at it’s finest. This is just one of hundreds of other reasons why Jean Lenti Ponsetto and her associated friends and family should be removed immediately.

  3. Jeanette Ruby on March 12th, 2018 4:52 pm

    Wintrust Bank is a true Chicago benefactor, supporting countless small, medium, large and jumbo (DePaul-sized) organizations throughout all of Chicago. Take a hard look and you’ll see Wintrust Bank supporting all Chicago Sports teams, numerous museums, theaters, art groups, parks, social service and nonprofit groups, far and wide throughout the city and Illinois. Wintrust Bank is homegrown, and its founder and leadership have roots in Chicago. Before you draw negative attention to this naming sponsorship, explore the millions in support across the entire city from Wintrust. Someone has to make the introduction, someone has to steward the relationship and communication, some one has to map out the complex elements of the sponsorship. An enormous amount of work goes into a naming sponsorship. Let’s not disparage a philanthropic banking institution until the facts are clearer.

  4. sanford sklansky on March 12th, 2018 5:11 pm

    I am just kind of hearing about this. While Wintrust may support all those things. This may even be the best deal for Depaul. But everyone involved is being quite secretive. Dan Bernstein was interviewing one of the reporters. I came in midway. As the reporter said Depaul is a private institute, so they really don’t have to tell any one anything about their business. Bernstein mentioned the donors might care. But I am not sure why they would.

  5. Daniel Boone on March 12th, 2018 5:17 pm

    This is Sponsorship 101. These business-to-business deals happen all the time. This isn’t a conflict of interest at all – this is good business. Who cares how the deal was done? When the JV squad of the DePaulia figures that out, this will be old news.

  6. Mike Maszka on March 12th, 2018 5:37 pm

    Great article fellas. Keep up the pressure!! She needs to go.

  7. Aaron Janovsky on March 12th, 2018 5:47 pm

    Now it’s becoming clear why JLP has been allowed to keep her job. She’s bringing in money. Smh I wonder if there were any other conflict of interest forms omitted in past transactions? Sometimes where there’s smoke there’s an athletic director who needs to be removed

  8. Susan Labovic on March 12th, 2018 6:02 pm

    It was an interesting read and very clearly outlined by the DePaulia staff . . . However, I’m still not buying that there was a conflict of interest. I don’t really find this a big news flash that indicates either Kandace Lenti nor Jean Lenti Ponsetto did anything wrong. It seems like a good match for both the university and the Chicago-based company – but seems unfortunate that so many want to twist it into something inappropriate. I am disgusted that anyone would even suggest that either one of these women would do anything less than professional and moral. Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions- I’d just like to say that I can back mine up with over 30 years of knowing Kandace and JLP both on a professional and personal level.

  9. Mike Potter on March 12th, 2018 6:09 pm

    I commend DePaulia for writing an article and basically sticking to the facts, good job. Major media could learn a lesson, you didn’t flat out accuse, you raised a fair question. I assure you this deal happened over the heads of both Kandace Lenti and JLP. As you investigate, I think you will find there is a 0% chance Kandace Lenti is the person at the bank who signed off on this sponsorship at WinTrust Arena. As others noted, WinTrust bills itself as Chicago’s bank, and they sponsor stuff in Chicago. Probably required WinTrust board approval. Kandace likely introduced them, that’s her job. JLP probably took the meeting with a potential sponsor on behalf of DePaul, that’s her job. JLP may have recommended WinTrust, as with any other material naming right. But there is a 0% chance JLP approved this decision herself. DePaul’s Trustee’s most certainly would have approved a deal as large and high profile as this. As an officer of the bank, Kandace is not going to comment to media on something like that, she signs a series of agreements annually specifically saying she won’t do that. From my perspective, most everything at DePaul is doing well. Other than Men’s Basketball, which unfortunately, has the highest profile by far.

  10. janet knipper on March 12th, 2018 6:56 pm

    I find it interesting that this article appears now after a group of alumni, who are mad at the men’s basketball team, start to call for J Lenti to step down. Does the failure of the team really fall on Jean? Does our pride in the university fall on the men’s team only? Look at the success of the other sports programs and the success of those student athletes academically. Jean has a lot to do with that, too. Yes, her family abounds but they have all done great jobs and are highly supportive of DePaul. Jean has spent her whole life at DePaul and has worked hard, received many awards, made her own significant donations in time and money.
    She deserves better. I personally applaud her efforts.

  11. JingGuai on March 12th, 2018 8:22 pm

    Exactly, and lets not forget, Depaul doesnt pay property taxes!

  12. Max Strus on March 12th, 2018 9:17 pm

    Of course you’d defend your two friends. Another conflict of interest and nepotism! Classic JLP.

  13. Susan Labovic on March 12th, 2018 10:49 pm

    Just shows how little you really know and understand about the big picture. Interesting how that’s the name you chose to write your comments under vs your real name 😕

  14. Susan Labovic on March 12th, 2018 10:50 pm

    Well said

  15. Susan Labovic on March 12th, 2018 10:51 pm


  16. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 11:17 pm

    The “friends and family” nepotism runs deep at DePaul and has led to mediocrity and a lack of accountability. DePaul Athletics doesn’t exist without the men’s basketball program. Her leadership of that program has been an absolute disaster. DePaul would need to go undefeated for 7 years in a row just to get to a .500 record under JLP. Lenti Ponsetto has been a complete failure and while the nepotism in place will keep her employment secure, she should at least have some dignity and step down to another position and allow a competent person to lead as director.

  17. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 11:22 pm

    Unfortunately, no other sports generates income except for Men’s Basketball. So your statement is the equivalent of saying that “everything else is doing well at Ford…… other than the sales of their vehicles.”

    This Wintrust deal is not a big deal for me. Given the Lenti Ponsetto cronyism, I would have been surprised if there was zero connection. Now THAT would have been a story! Zero nepotism and cronyism involved with Wintrust deal!! WOW!!! 😀

    Wintrust deal aside, JLP should be fired for the disastrous decisions she has made with the men’s basketball program.

  18. Evelyn johnson on March 12th, 2018 11:28 pm

    The BEST thing for DPU student body is the alum connections. I was happy to show my gratitude to DPU for offering me the first female athletic scholarship. I showed it by providing internship opportunities to only DPU students, not UIC, NU, or UofC students. I showed it by mentoring students interested in a marketing/advertising career. I show it by helping alum when they need media expertise. I believe my 35 years of experience should be used first with the university that helped me get where I am today. This is not nepotism and neither was Kandace Lenti’s. Alum are good business partners and great connections for everyone at DePaul University. You’d be foolish not to use them.

  19. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 11:29 pm

    “Does the failure of the team really fall on Jean?” Yes! The failure falls on Jean Lenti Ponsetto and the President(s) who have failed to fire her. JLP is the only constant over the years. Different players. Different coaches. Different arena. Different conferences. But same AD. And same horrendous results under her tenure. Her $1M/year contract offer to Dave Leitao is itself a reason she should be dismissed. And this came after an even more disastrous $2M/year Oliver Purnell hiring.

    I’m sure the friends and family cronyism at DePaul can find JLP another job where she will be paid almost the same. But PLEASE keep her away from the men’s basketball program. She should have been fired years ago.

  20. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 11:39 pm

    “I showed it by providing internship opportunities to only DPU students, not UIC, NU, or UofC students.”

    Well, that type of nepotism is never good. So you are admitting on a public forum to dismissing candidates simply because of their school affiliation? From internships to athletic directors, positions should be filled based only on merit and results.

  21. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 11:41 pm

    A. Gabriel Esteban: “His insistence on hiring people based on merit and absolute objection to getting ahead using one’s personal connections is atypical in Filipino culture, where it’s not unusual for elected officials to appoint relatives to key positions.”

    That quote is from an article written about DePaul’s President. Hopefully he will soon bring that same type of policy to DePaul Athletics.


  22. Eileen Maloney on March 13th, 2018 12:43 pm

    I do not think that if you searched all of Chicagoland – no all of anywhere- you will find someone who has given more of herself to DePaul and the DePaul community selflessly than Jeanne Lenti Ponsetto. Similarly, Kandace is wholeheartedly committed to the DePaul Community.

    DePaulia, please explain how these two celebrated and talented women, somehow put their own interests above the school they have served and loved for nearly their entire lives. If you can’t, there is no conflict and the biggest scandal here is your reporting of this non-issue.

    Thank you Jeanne and Kandace for all that you have done and continue to do for the DePaul Community and our school.

    Shame on you DePaulia!

  23. Karma on March 13th, 2018 1:32 pm

    I Don’t buy into the tenure length, interests, and where loyalties lie argument. Shame on JLP and Kandace Lenti. This was completely a conflicted arrangement with intent. All who are involved are responsible, and this should be looked into more closely. Period. Great reporting.

  24. Vinny on March 13th, 2018 6:20 pm

    What do you know? DePaul womens basketball alum Janet Knipper commenting. The amount of JLP cronies out there never ceases to amaze me.

  25. Epstein's mother on March 13th, 2018 10:45 pm

    First a previous commenter said JLP is responsible for athletic success at DePaul. With the exception of softball and women’s basketball, what exactly has been successful?

    Secondly, an external sports marketing firm was used. Which firm? Does a Lenti name appear on its board of directors? If so then there’s more to the story.

    Finally, JLP has given so much in service to the university, however, her presence is a divisive force, it might be better to step aside and ride off into the sunset.

  26. Frank L. on March 14th, 2018 12:29 pm

    You didn’t present any analysis about the key point and you partially violated your obligation to keep confidential the identify of your anonymous source.

    The key point you didn’t write about is the ONLY potential negative result for Depaul: did Ms. Lenti Ponsetto’s relationship to her sister result in DePaul getting a deal which was less than it should have? In other words, did a personal relationship lead DePaul, with Ms. Lenti’s involvement, to be shortchanged?

    The likely honest answer is that DePaul got precisely the level of value it should have. I base my comment on what I know about these deals, the Chicago market and DePaul’s current and probable future value as an endorsement partner. But don’t take my word for it. All you had to do was research such deals, talk to people in the industry for comparisons, etc. I did so and reached my conclusion that the DePaul/Wintrust deal is fair and market-value for both sides.

    As for your partially exposing your source, you identified the source as “he.” That helps in-the-know people narrow the list of potential identities by eliminating all females. That is a significant error. You used the words “the source” and “they” in every other instance but you got sloppy that one time. Now any reader knows the source is a male.

    Frank L., Chicago

  27. Alumnist Aggravatius on March 15th, 2018 3:19 am

    This, at worst, appears to be an ethical issue and even that I’m not entirely sure would qualify. Also, Frank L. is spot on with both the lack of emphasis on what the ‘conflict of interest’ would actually be and the alarming use of a subject pronoun identifying gender. As others have mentioned, the relationship is only problematic if DePaul did not receive the best deal possible due to it. That’s the meat. Was there corruptive behavior, if so by whom. Who else was/is aware of it? Is there a cover-up?

    I am no fan of Ms. Lenti Ponsetto, nor am I an advocate for her dismissal. The latter will change in a heartbeat if your work digs up any malice behavior even remotely harmful to the University that is connected to and/or caused by Ms. Lenti Ponsetto…

    Now, OT from the article at hand, do I believe Ms. Lenti Ponsetto’s job performance is so substandard that she should be removed from her position? No, I do not. The non-income driving athletics, arena completion, and her standing within the community of NCAA athletic directors are all strong. If she were to be fired would I feel it unjust? Nope. The men’s basketball program is the single most profitable and recognizable aspect of the University- that’s simply the way of life. Her inability to properly identify a coaching staff capable of fielding a competitive program while completely squandering the advantage by one of the most fertile basketball regions in the world as the university’s backyard is staggering. Also, her inability to even recognize how unbelievably massive of an untapped resource the Men’s team is for revenue, enrollment, sponsorships, alum participation/donation, etc. is alone enough to warrant without protest a resignation/termination.

    All of that said, when Ms. Lenti Poncetto’s time as the AD comes to an end, I hope its because of the right reasons (see: above) and not something that potentially disgraces the solid work she has put into the University that is later proven to be a complete truth. The process in which the results are had are as important as the results themselves.

  28. Rick Telander on March 19th, 2018 4:23 am

    I get a kick out of all the writers blasting the reporters from The DePaulia for trying to ask highly-paid “adults” questions that may be a nuisance or bother to the adults, but which might be important on many levels to many people (students are people, aren’t they?) and which are completely reasonable. So bankers can’t talk to the public? So the AD is too busy to talk to a DePaul journalist? So the school PR folks respond with gibberish?
    “DePaul Athletics assisted in providing corporate sponsorship and marketing elements and community outreach initiatives,” answers the PR person to a simple question. Nine words of three syllables or more out of 14 words, saying what? When you don’t want to tell the truth or are afraid of it, you respond with verbal garbage. Read Orwell.
    There is deep and troubling irony in the fact journalism is taught and graded and extolled at DePaul, but obviously its practice is not welcome when it’s too close to home. Citizens of Chicago helped pay for Wintrust Arena, remember. They deserve answers, just as DePaul students, alumni, and employees deserve answers.
    I’m with the DePaulia 100 percent. Answer the damn questions with real words, real facts, adults, and the issue is over. You got nothing to hide, what’s the problem?! Or would those alleged DePaul lovers and emailers prefer the student journalists shut up, forget what they’ve been taught, and leave big issues to, well, the spin-meisters who can make it all just go away and keep everybody smiling?

  29. OMZ on March 19th, 2018 8:48 am

    JLP would have been fired long time ago at any other respectable program. Key word: respectable. Years of belligerent mismanagement have turned the university’s flagship program into a laughingstock.

The Blue Demons were once the face of Chicago basketball during the 1970's and 80's but under Jean Lenti Ponsetto's leadership they have faded into irrelevancy. (Ally Zacek | The DePaulia)

The Blue Demons were once the face of Chicago basketball during the 1970's and 80's but under Jean Lenti Ponsetto's leadership they have faded into irrelevancy. (Ally Zacek | The DePaulia)

The Blue Demons were once the face of Chicago basketball during the 1970's and 80's but under Jean Lenti Ponsetto's leadership they have faded into irrelevancy. (Ally Zacek | The DePaulia)

Editorial: Overhaul years overdue in Athletic Department

When the Blue Demons lost Wednesday’s game against Marquette in the opening round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, they capped off what should have been a season to remember.  But a failed first year at the Wintrust Arena might just be the final straw in over a decade of DePaul being among the most laughable, embarrassing and mismanaged programs in the history of Division 1 NCAA basketball.

A sweeping overhaul of DePaul’s athletic department has been warranted, if not necessary, for years. After Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto paid big bucks for questionable coaches, questions about leadership arose — but former president Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider continued to stand confidently behind his embattled athletic director.

When questioned about the men’s basketball team’s track record under her tenure, the response from the Sullivan Athletic Center and the university tends to be just as empty as the skulls running the department. Pointing to the successes of non-revenue generating sports like softball, women’s basketball, track and field and the academic prowess of their student athletes, the athletic department routinely misses the point of why they exist: to be a billboard of success for the university.

Today, amid growing public outcry, a third swing and miss on a washed-up Dave Leitao, $82.5 million spent on an near-empty arena and a new president ready to make his own mark on the university, the circumstances are ripe for real change.

Now that Wintrust Arena’s first official season is all wrapped up, falling comically short of each and every expectation laid out by DePaul’s athletic department, The DePaulia is making a formal call for change: It is the opinion of this newspaper — and a growing contingent of students and alumni — that the general welfare of DePaul Athletics and the university at large is best served by the termination or resignation of Lenti Ponsetto and her most recent failed hire.

Three strikes and you’re out

Lenti Ponsetto took the reins of the DePaul athletic department shortly after the 2001-02 season came to a close, just as five-year head coach Pat Kennedy ended his run with the program.  In Kennedy’s place, exiting athletic director Bill Bradshaw picked former University of Connecticut coach and rising star Dave Leitao to take the helm of the fading men’s basketball program for the 2002-03 season.  In his first year, Leitao brought the Blue Demons back to the NIT tournament and then to an NCAA appearance just one year later — a feat that no DePaul men’s basketball team has since achieved.

As many rising coaches eventually do, Leitao left the program following a second straight 20-win season to take a higher paying job at the University of Virginia in 2005.

The Lenti Ponsetto regime, however, didn’t really begin to write its own legacy until 2005, when the Blue Demons took a deep breath and plunged into the elite Big East Conference.

“I am excited for student-athletes, coaches, alumni and fans,” Lenti Ponsetto said at the time. “This invitation to the Big East allows us to renew rivalries with some old friends and positions at DePaul to compete against institutions who share similar philosophies both academically and athletically.”    

To this day, the old powerhouse from Lincoln Park — the former face of Chicago basketball — has yet to resurface as Lenti Ponsetto continues to anchor the Blue Demons to the bottom rung of the Big East.

Lenti Ponsetto’s first hire, Jerry Wainwright, was an interesting change of pace to say the least. Leitao was one of the hottest names in college basketball when he left for Virginia, so bringing in a guy in his late 50’s with zero experience in a top-tier conference felt uninspired.

But, to the surprise of many, Wainwright managed to walk the Blue Demons into the quarterfinals of the NIT tournament in just his second year. But the revival didn’t last. Just two years later in 2008-09, Wainwright finished 0-18 in league play and was then fired after an 0-3 start to conference play in the following season.

Scrambling to fix the program as quickly as possible, Lenti Ponsetto turned to Oliver Purnell out of Clemson — a coach with a reputation for fixing struggling basketball programs. He couldn’t have been a bigger bust.

Over Purnell’s five years at DePaul, he racked up a grand total of 15 conference wins, four dead-last finishes and zero postseason appearances while getting paid well over $2 million each year to do it. Hall-of-Fame coaches like Jim Boeheim at Syracuse University made less over the same time.

Late on Leitao

When Lenti Ponsetto announced Leitao would be returning to Lincoln Park for the 2015-16 season, it saw mixed reactions.  Leitao had been the last coach to take the Blue Demons dancing back in 2003, but in 2015 no program in the country wanted anything to do with him.

After he left Virginia, Leitao found his way to the head coaching job for the Maine Red Claws of the NBA’s Developmental League before making his way back to college basketball as an assistant for the University of Missouri. By the time he was approached to come back to Lincoln Park and build up the ruins of Blue Demon basketball, he was a mere relic of his old self.  Still, Lenti Ponsetto broke out the cash and made Leitao the highest paid employee at the university, where he signed a contract guaranteeing him over $1 million per year.   

“I absolutely love this school and everything that it stands for,” Leitao said in 2015. “There isn’t anybody more special in college athletics than Jeanne, and I am honored to help raise the basketball program to the level that she deserves.”

Years one and two back in Chicago did not go as planned for the New England native head coach. Walking away with less than 10 overall wins each season, Blue Demon fans started losing the last shreds of faith they had left. This year Leitao had a more talented roster than any Blue Demon team in recent history, but still only managed 11 wins, 20 losses and a tie for dead-last in the Big East.

If more talent and effectively no progress doesn’t point at a coaching problem, what does? In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that the close losses and victories from Leitao’s season had nothing to do with him at all.  Former Blue Demon Levi Cook, who transferred from the school because he felt unsupported by the program during a family crisis, says it was former associate head coach Rick Carter running the show when it counted most.

“When we (beat) Providence and we beat Georgetown, (Carter) was the guy on the clipboard calling all the plays at the end of the game,” Cook said. “I think they’d probably have couple more wins if Carter was there.”      

Carter resigned from the university to pursue a business opportunity after the 2016-17 season.

“To everyone else out there, I dare you to give us a try,” Leitao said. “We are absolutely going to make you proud.”

Pride is currently the among the last words or emotions associated with DePaul men’s basketball.

Contempt for the crowd

Lenti Ponsetto’s record running DePaul men’s basketball team speaks for itself and it’s inexcusable — no athletic director with her record handling a flagship program would have lasted half as long as she has. But what may be even more despicable is the way she lies and flip-flops publicly about the issues with men’s basketball.

Earlier this year when speaking with The DePaulia about attendance at Wintrust, Lenti Ponsetto said she didn’t think feasibility projections of 9,500 fans at home games was reasonable and that it was never a target for the university.  Upon review of The DePaulia’s archives, that turned out to be a bold faced lie.

Lenti Ponsetto told the DePaulia in 2016 that 9,500 “was a relatively achievable number” and that “they are very confident.”

Even outside the realm of twisting attendance figures, Lenti Ponsetto can’t seem to stick to one story about where the program is going. At the press conference held the day Leitao was announced as head coach, Lenti Ponsetto projected a lot of confidence about the immediate future of DePaul men’s basketball.

“We made it clear to everyone we talked to,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “We don’t see this as a rebuild.”

This past Wednesday before the men’s team took the court at Madison Square Garden, she told the Chicago Tribune a very different story.

“I appreciate we have some fans who want to win right away. I think there are some people who thought as soon as we opened the doors to Wintrust, that was going to equal winning right away,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “For us to be able to really realize the value of having a brand-new facility and amenity space that goes with it, it’s going to take us a few years to do that because it’s a recruiting process.”

Lenti Ponsetto seems to have already forgotten that Tyger Campbell, DePaul’s biggest potential recruit in recent history, attended several games at Wintrust Arena throughout the year and still didn’t move to Lincoln Park.  And even if it’s really going to take some time for Wintrust to turn the program around, Lenti Ponsetto may have repelled every recruit in the country with her own words.

“I’m excited (for) what I hear from our longtime, loyal season ticket holders who come to games because they want to support DePaul student-athletes,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “They’re not coming to games expecting it to be the junior NBA.”

Translation: if you’re really good at basketball and want to play in the NBA, don’t come to DePaul.

Today the Blue Demons fester at the bottom of the Big East standings, out of everyone’s sight and mind.  Once the face of basketball in the Windy City, programs like Loyola have passed us by, emerging as legitimate, NCAA Tournament worthy programs.

While Lenti Ponsetto continues to lament DePaul’s unique circumstances as an urban university, Loyola — just a few stops up the Red Line — is proving that basketball teams can both win and draw a crowd in the city.

  1. Terry Sidlow on March 12th, 2018 9:29 am

    Bravo DePaulia. My wife, late son and I are DePaul alums and former season ticket holders. This recommended action is long overdue. Recent responses from the A.D. are at best sophomoric and more likely delusional. University leadership at the board level has been derelict in providing oversight to the flagship athletic program.

  2. mike on March 12th, 2018 9:54 am


  3. Ryan ward on March 12th, 2018 10:16 am

    Well done with this and exposing the truth. A long overdue analysis and insight into the grossly mismanaged tenure of JLP.

    Patience can only be expected for so long and after 3 disastrous hires the time once again presents itself for DePaul to acknowledge responsibility and make the necessary changes. I assume DePaul won’t do that and instead will continue preaching patience and lean on the narrative of “doing things right”. Which begs a follow question to JLP around the Melvin situation and APR failing in ’06.

  4. Frank on March 12th, 2018 10:28 am

    They got their shiny new arena and still stink. So much for the talk about a new arena and what it would do for the program. It’s simply a continuation of the suckfest that has been going on for the past 12 years. At one time, the program actually meant something to the city even if you didn’t attend the school. They celebrate “close losses” and tell us to be patient. Forget it folks, hold onto the nostalgia of the past because I’m not sure this program would make the final four of the IHSA.

  5. Dan on March 12th, 2018 11:17 am

    Great reporting! Really can’t believe it’s taken this long for enough people to get upset to start doing something. She’s had too many chances. Bad decision after bad decision. No way she would have kept her job at any other school. Time to wipe the whole slate clean and give fans something to look forward to on the court. Make the change! I hope they have the fortitude to do what’s right. Bye JLP.

  6. Mtw on March 12th, 2018 1:03 pm

    Great article!!! Quit calling for pitino tho guys, he’s a slime ball!!! Tom crean, Payne from Kentucky are much better options

  7. Michael on March 12th, 2018 1:28 pm

    Great article. As a 1976 graduate and long time season ticket holder it sickens me to see the sad state of the men’s basketball program. We gave up our tickets after many years rather than follow them downtown into the new crystal palace just to watch more losing and more excuses. I love my Blue Demons, but It’s time for a new AD and coach.

  8. Michael Wedeven on March 12th, 2018 3:25 pm

    As a DePaul alumn and die hard Demon basketball fan, I have been wanting Lenti Ponsetto removed for quite some time now. She has been not only an abysmal failure, but her delusions of grandeur are quite something to behold. She cannot own a mirror….because ANYONE with a soul who has led this once proud program into the ground cannot in good conscience look at themselves in the mirror and be PROUD of what they have accomplished. Just for her own morality….she should step down!! She will not, as she holds onto this position like a Pope. It will take the kind of pressure we see here to have her REMOVED and I pray daily that it happens SOON! I want my DePaul Men’s Basketball program back JLP and the ONLY way that will happen is for you to hit the bricks. So for the love of EVERYTHING HOLY…..realize and accept the fact that you have been an unmitigated disaster and step down….OR….DPU….wake up and FIRE HER!

  9. Scott on March 12th, 2018 4:24 pm

    Great article! I am a recent alum, and have known nothing but being a Big East bottom feeder for as long as I’ve been bleeding blue and red. I’ve been following college athletics a long time, and no AD has had this long of a leash. Change needs to be made!

  10. Mike on March 12th, 2018 5:42 pm

    Fantastic article. Tyger Campbell giving us the Heisman should be the final nail in the coffin. You had him and somehow you lost him. Time to clean house. I do like Tom Crean for head coach.

  11. Mike Potter on March 12th, 2018 6:32 pm

    DePaulia Question: Are there other significant AD criticisms other than Men’s basketball? Honest question. You should take a look. Other sports have seemingly thrived under JLP, Women’s Basketball is a top 10 program, Softball has had way more success than many Big Ten programs. Facilities are great, BUT WILL NEVER BE Power 5 Conference football school quality. Yes, Men’s Basketball is the only one that matters, but with the new Arena I think that could change with a new hire. Don’t kid yourself, JLP has a committee that hires Men’s BB coaches, it’s naïve to suggest she does it herself.. JLP inherited RosemontAllstate, traffic and all.. An on campus arena in one of the highest priced real estate areas in the world doesn’t really work. DePaul has a very modest endowment for a university of it’s size, it’s not Notre Dame. I honestly don’t know, is it fair to say DePaul is doing OK other than Men’s BB? I’m not making an excuse, but I it seems reasonable. I think DePaul is a diamond in the rough for a young up and coming coach. If she nailed the next hire, is all good?

  12. Alum on March 12th, 2018 6:59 pm

    DePaul please make a change

  13. Richard Nelson on March 12th, 2018 7:49 pm

    Thank you so much for giving this issue the attention it deserves! I started my freshman year at DePaul 6 years ago, going to many home games. The few students that made the trip to Rosement were talking about how she needed to be fired immediately.

    6 years later, we are still here. She would have been fired anywhere else TEN YEARS AGO. She has to go. We can only praise her for the other sports for so long…

  14. Jerry Lange on March 12th, 2018 9:21 pm

    All true. Good people sometimes make poor leaders. DePaul was the face of Chicago basketball, but the audience today has no idea about that, because its been so long ago……..very sad.

    I am a season ticket holder, but won’t be next year if there the University does not make changes, been fooled long enough. The new arena is beautiful, but remains empty, very empty, Can’t anyone see that. Students could care less, and that’s evident by the lack of student attendance. Maybe 16 max any game.

    Current coach quit on DePaul for Virginia, and we hire him back………odd! How’s Virginia doing without him now………right…… #1 seed.

    Please restore the past proud Blue Demon tradition. Hopefully our new President has the leadership to enact needed changes.

  15. Kevin Brooks on March 12th, 2018 10:53 pm

    As an alum I find this basketball program an absolute embarrassment. I knew once they hired Leitao back the program had no interest trying to compete. FIRE PONSETTO!

  16. Michael Class '13 on March 13th, 2018 8:20 am

    Terrific article! All we want is for her to be held accountable the same way everyone else is. I was one of the few to actually attend games during my time at school. I went to 32 games as a student and they won 4! The DePaul basketball program is an embarrassment to all alums and it has become a joke around the city. I don’t want to hear about how DePaul is behind the eight ball because they don’t have a football team. Tell that to Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. Johns, Xavier and all the rest of the teams in the Big East. If anything, being based in Chicago should give them an advantage over schools based in Rhode Island, Nebraska, and Cincinnati. The DePaul athletic department is being run like a mom and pop shop and Father H let it slide. Hope the new president finally puts his foot down!

  17. Mike Enright on March 13th, 2018 8:50 am

    Review the Tv coverage of DePaul’s Big East conf. game./ loss. Leitao was on camera telling his team that they need energy- saying this with an energized emphasis of a paralyzed snail. During one of the last time outs, Leitao was filmed in the huddle methodically saying” guys you kinda wanna do something to get excited, like slap the floor or something,.” The players looked at him like “whatever”. He has the motivational speaking skills of Knute Rockne, no not from Knute of the 1920’s, but his present day coffin remains. Marquette played 2) 5’10 guards and DePaul did not use their size advantages in the post once. Time for an overhaul, but it sure is nice to know that the softball team is doing so well, those crowds of 30+ people and the nacho sales should be enough to cover the cost of Leitao’s kleenex supply.

  18. Soveryblue on March 13th, 2018 5:08 pm

    This is amazing reporting.
    While you’re at it, please investigate the Athletics graduate assistant program, and the bullying behavior of Karen Loiacono. Long hours, middle of the night emails and empty promises for more workers and pay. And Peter Tombasco and his belittling behavior toward the student workers.Find out what really happened to Statz and McDonough. Did they decide to stop being puppets to JLP? Did Hurley and
    Drew really decline to work at DePaul due to the
    lack of commitment to winning?
    Kudos to Bruno, but let’s get real. UConn and ND leaving for new conferences sure helped their opportunities for conference championships.
    There are more problems there than just basketball.

  19. Sandyinaccounting on March 14th, 2018 8:46 am

    How does Max Strus,’ Mom get that job as assistant coach of Volleyball? Mmmmmm…was she more qualified than other candidates? If so, then let’s hear that now, because this sure smells funny once again. More investigation needed since the Depaulia has finally shined a light on this poorly run family department. As stated in the last post, this is not just about basketball.

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