Tim Anderson steps into head coaching role in Leitao’s absence


Alexa Sandler / The DePaulia

DePaul interim head coach Tim Anderson talks with freshman forward Romeo Weems during DePaul’s game against the University of Chicago on Wednesday at Wintrust.

Moving over one seat on the bench in college basketball might not seem like a huge change, but when that seat takes someone from the assistant coach to the head coach of program, that is a major change for someone — especially someone who’s never experienced that in the collegiate ranks.

With DePaul head coach Dave Leitao suspended for the first three games of the 2019-2020 season because the NCAA ruled he  “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance,” his assistant coach Tim Anderson was given the responsibility to lead the Blue Demons at the start of the season.

“I wouldn’t be truthful if I wouldn’t say I had different emotions going through my head,” Anderson said after his first game in charge on Nov. 5. “I was nervous, I was anxious, I was excited. But when I looked at the guys in front of me I felt better, when the ball was thrown up I felt better. So, it was so many different emotions. It’s hard to sleep at night as an assistant, but coach Leitao always says when you move one seat over I ain’t getting no sleep, up at 3:30 in the morning my wife is like what are you doing up. So, certain things you gotta be prepared for but it was a great experience.

“For the most part, the way we do it here at DePaul is do your job and next man up. So, coach always preached that and it’s my turn right now to be more of a leader and just be an extension of coach Leitao.”

Anderson and his team got off to a perfect start against Alcorn State in their and ended up winning 72-54 to begin the season. But, regardless of the opponent and score, there was still a different feeling within the team knowing they won’t have Leitao to begin the season.

“It was hard,” junior guard Charlie Moore said of not having Leitao on the bench. “Of course, we wish he was here but we talked it over, the players and the coaching staff, so we pretty much knew what we were going to have. So, just try to attack the day the same way we normally do even when coach Leitao is there.”

After defeating Alcorn State to start the season, DePaul then turned its attention to Division III University of Chicago. With the game being played less than 24 hours from the season opener, the Blue Demons didn’t have much time to rest and prepare for the visitors. That lack of time off between games had a major impact in the first half, with the Blue Demons struggling to figure out how to defend the Maroons. In the first 20 minutes of the game, Chicago shot 10-for-29 from the field, with eight of those makes coming from the 3-point line.

The Blue Demons eventually imposed their will on the visitors in the second half, and limited Chicago to only 21 percent shooting from the field. While DePaul won 84-55,  Anderson wasn’t pleased with his team’s start to the game, particularly on the defensive end.

“Actually, I had to get into them a little bit,” Anderson said. “We got some guys, some veteran guys, we rely on Paul [Reed], Darious [Hall], Jalen [Coleman-Lands], Charlie [Moore] and Jaylen [Butz]. But at some point, we have to turn this around and we got to get it going. Like I always tell the guys, a pat in the back and kick on the butt is six inches apart, so we got to continue what we gotta do. It’s no way structurally we can play that bad defensively and give up open shot after open shot. I give you freedom on offense, but on defense you gotta do what you are supposed to do every single play. So, structurally we have some things we need to fix, I had to get on their butt a little bit and then they responded.”

Anderson, a Chicago native who has been at DePaul since 2017, was vocal on the sidelines throughout the first three games and got on the team when they made mistakes. During a stoppage in play, Anderson would call one or two players over to the sidelines to give them instructions on what they need to do better.

While Anderson will get on his players for not doing what he is asking of them in certain moments, the players were happy with his style of coaching and his leadership.

“He’s a great man,” junior forward Jaylen Butz said. “Any time your head coach goes down it’s tough, but Tim he stepped up and he’s continued to keep us confident, and we believe in him and he believes in us. So, it’s just a great give-and-take type of deal, he’s very positive to us so that gives us an opportunity to feel good and comfortable when we are on the court. We are just grateful for him.”

Being able to begin the season with two opponents DePaul was expected to beat helped to take some pressure off Anderson, especially given the talented squad he has to work with. But the difficult part was getting his team ready to play three games in four nights, with the biggest challenge coming last Friday against Fairleigh Dickinson.

The short amount of rest between each game had an impact on how DePaul started the final two games, but against the tougher opponent Fairleigh Dickinson, that lack of rest nearly cost the Blue Demons a win.  If it wasn’t for Moore’s heroics in the second half, scoring 13 points in the final nine minutes, DePaul would most likely be standing at 2-1 instead of 3-0.

After the game, knowing his job as the head coach was done and he can move back to his normal seat as the assistant coach, Anderson gave the credit to his success to the team and how well they played.

“Well, DePaul is 3-0 as [me and the team] as coach,” Anderson said. “All I was doing is doing my part, this Leitao, that’s my big dog. And I’m trying to hold the fort down until he gets back and when I call him at 12:01, I don’t want him to be cursing me out as much. But honestly it’s about us, and that’s how we go around here. It is never one on one, it’s one on us, we try to go family, we try to go we, we. It’s not me, it’s us, it’s DePaul.”