DePaul Athletics reflects on Jean Lenti Ponsetto’s retirement

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Ryan Gilroy

DePaul athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto will retire this summer. Lenti Ponsetto has been DePaul's AD since 2002.

After 18 years as the athletic director at DePaul, Jean Lenti Ponsetto officially announced on Friday her decision to retire this summer. 

Before becoming DePaul’s athletics director, Lenti Ponsetto was the school’s senior associate athletic director for 12 years and  an assistant director for two. 

Today is a bittersweet day for me and my husband, Joe. DePaul has been a part of our lives for the past 46 years,” Lenti Ponsetto said in a statement. “Our dearest and closest friends were teammates as we began our student-athlete journeys with in 1974. It truly has been our privilege and the honor of a lifetime to serve DePaul as athletic director and to witness the unprecedented growth from that ‘little school under the el’ to its current world class University serving students from around the globe.” 

Lenti Ponsetto, 64, has been DePaul’s AD since July 2002. She is a member of the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame and has been a fixture in the Blue Demon athletic community since she attended the school in the mid-1970s, where she played tennis, volleyball, softball and basketball.

Lenti Ponsetto’s first landmark move as athletic director was moving DePaul from Conference USA to the Big East in 2005. She also played an active role in the conference’s realignment in 2013, with seven members from the previous conference staying — DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova — and three new members being added — Butler, Creighton and Xavier. 

In her decision to retire, Lenti Ponsetto announced that she’s battling breast cancer for the third time. 

“The changing times over these past few months has led me to this decision,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “Having successfully battled two breast cancer diagnoses and currently in treatment for a third, I thought it was time to step away from the long days, working every weekend and the 24/7 demands that being an athletic director requires. I am incredibly grateful to the world-class medical team at Rush University Medical Center for their healing hands and hearts that have allowed me to continue my life’s work serving the DePaul community. Not unimportant in this decision for me was the opportunity to spend more time with our growing family and my 95-year-old dad who lives with Joe and I.”   

With DePaul now beginning its fresh search for a new athletic director, the school did announce that Lenti Ponsetto will stay on and help in the transition for a new leader. The school also plans to “conduct and complete a national search for a new athletic director over the summer.”

“Jeanne is a Blue Demon through and through,” DePaul President Gabriel Esteban said. “Her contributions over the years have been significant and we wish her well in her retirement. Jeanne’s leadership has withstood the test of time and her career at DePaul has been filled with many accomplishments, which we plan to recognize in an appropriate way when we can.”

With DePaul now being forced to go in a different direction, the new athletic director will be tasked with turning around the men’s basketball program. During Lenti Ponsetto’s tenure, the men’s basketball team has only made the NCAA Tournament one time, in 2004. 

In an effort to get the Blue Demons back to their glory days, Lenti Ponsetto has hired three different head coaches — Jerry Wainwright, Oliver Purnell and Dave Leitao. After both Wainwright and Purnell failed to bring the program back to relevancy, DePaul brought back Leitao in 2015. 

Since 2015, Leitao is 64-98 and has finished in last place in the Big East four straight years. Last summer, the NCAA suspended Leitao for the first three games of the 2019-20 season. The NCAA announced that Leitao failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance inside his program. The NCAA also put the men’s basketball program on probation for three seasons. 

After the findings were released by the NCAA, DePaul and Lenti Ponsetto defended Leitao. 

DePaul University has long become synonymous with the name Jean Lenti Ponsetto,” Leitao said. “For 46 years, it’s easy for that to happen. That is only a fraction of the reason why her and our University are cojoined.

“Jeanne has meant so much to all of us because her leadership has been unmatched. She has been a champion for students and student-athletes on campus and nationally. In a male-dominated business, she has stood out because of her class, her intellect and her vision for what is true and just for DePaul.”

While the men’s basketball program has not been successful under Lenti Ponsetto, the women’s basketball team has been the athletic department’s shining light. Led by Head Coach Doug Bruno, whom Lenti Ponsetto played for in the 1970s, the program has made the NCAA Tournament 18 straight years, won the Big East regular season title six times and captured the Big East Tournament title five times. 

The positive culture that Jeanne has created inside DePaul athletics is unique and unmatched,” Bruno said. “Her passion, work ethic, and caring for each and every DePaul student-athlete and coach is special and also again, unique. Jeanne’s willingness and effort to go above and beyond was constantly witnessed as she took on numerous leadership committee roles outside of DePaul that so positively affected all of intercollegiate athletics in all sports.”

Lenti Ponsetto’s tenure has also been met with multiple scandals that have painted the athletic department in a bad light. In April, a lawsuit was filed against former softball coach Eugene Lenti —  the brother of Lenti Ponsetto — alleging he verbally and physically abused his players and an assistant coach. Lenti retired in the summer of 2018 and is now an assistant coach at Auburn University. 

Lenti Ponsetto has yet to comment regarding the lawsuit and allegations regarding her brother. 

In 2018, a DePaulia investigation found that the Wintrust executive vice president and sister-in-law of Lenti Ponsetto, Kandace Lenti, was involved in the multi-million dollar Wintrust Arena in the naming rights agreement. DePaul officials also told The DePaulia that Lenti Ponsetto never officially disclosed a conflict of interest form before engaging in the deal. 

Lenti Ponsetto still remains one of the few female athletic directors in the country, and has served in multiple leadership roles. 

During her tenure, 14 of the 15 DePaul athletic programs have qualified for the NCAA Tournament. She has also been responsible for building Cacciatore Softball Stadium in 2010, and renovations taking place at the Sullivan Athletic Center, Wish Field and the Cherry Family Indoor Track.

“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the current and former Blue Demons that chose DePaul to be the lifelong home of their transformational intellectual, athletic, spiritual and professional growth years,” Lenti Ponsetto said.

“I affirm my pride in the professional accomplishments and servant leadership of our Blue Demon letterwinners – the world will be a better place for their innumerable and immeasurable contributions. As well, any and every success we’ve had during my tenure has been the result of the incredible leadership, mentorship and commitment of our coaches and my athletics colleagues that have walked every step of this journey with me. They, along with our past and present Blue Demons have been my everyday joy.”