‘I hope that it is my first and last: DePaul begins its search for new men’s basketball coach


Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics

DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy speaks during his first press conference

In his first press conference since men’s basketball head coach Dave Leitao was fired, DePaul Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy stressed the importance of finding the right person to lead the program moving forward.

On Monday, Peevy announced that he fired Leitao after serving six years as the Blue Demons’ coach. A day later, DePaul’s search for a new head coach is underway — a decision that will define the program’s future. 

“I hope that it is my first and last,” Peevy told reporters via Zoom on Tuesday. “Right, that’s how you are supposed to get this done. I want to operate at a high level of efficiency. I’ve been prepared for this my whole life, whether it was getting this job of being in this seat, you are not going to be an athletic director if you are not prepared to deal with it. I do understand the important level of it. I do understand being charged with a huge responsibility for Blue Demon nation everywhere.”

In six seasons that Leitao was DePaul’s coach when he returned in 2015, the Blue Demons went 69-112 overall and 21-85 in the Big East. The Blue Demons never reached the NCAA Tournament or NIT, but did play in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) in 2019, going 4-2 and losing to South Florida in the championship series.  

In the meantime, Tim Anderson will serve as the interim head coach until a new person is hired. Anderson, who was an assistant under Leitao, was also the team’s interim for the first three games of the 2019-20 season while Leitao was serving a three-game suspension.

DePaul senior guard Charlie Moore looks for a pass against UConn on Jan. 11 at Wintrust Arena. (Alexa Sandler/The DePaulia)

“We are looking for a leader of young men, who recruits at a high level and understands the importance of winning basketball and the role it plays in changing the lives of all the men and women in our athletics department, our campus and the entire Blue Demon nation,” Peevy said.

Peevy, who was hired on Aug. 24 to replace former AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto, also confirmed that DePaul will work with DHR International, a search firm, in this process. 

In terms of possible requirements that candidates need to have, Peevy said it’s important that they have been an assistant or a head coach in college before. Ultimately, the goal is to hire someone who will be with DePaul for years to come. 

“I want somebody who is a program builder that gets to a point where the floor is making the [NCAA] Tournament versus being the ceiling,” Peevy said. “So, I think that’s the goal for me, someone that will partner with me to get those things done to be big focal points and leaders of our athletic department.” 

Prior to coming to DePaul last summer, Peevy spent 12 years at Kentucky that included the last seven as the deputy athletic director. He worked closely with the men’s basketball program, head coach John Calipari and former assistant Kenny Payne, who is now working with the New York Knicks.

According to a source, The DePaulia reported on Monday that Payne is DePaul’s main target to replace Leitao. Peevy said he has not talked to any coaching candidates, but might start on Tuesday when he meets with DHR for the first time. 

The experience that Peevy has had working at Kentucky and helping to oversee the men’s basketball team is something that he can use to his advantage when deciding who to hire as DePaul’s next head coach. 

“I think the one thing I learned, even in my communication role before I became the administrator for basketball, is that you have to put the players first,” Peevy said. “I think our student-athletes and our student-first mentality that we have here at DePaul is important. And I think if you really care about young people, you will make the right decisions, you put them first. That’s no knock about what we had in the past, but I want somebody that really cares about mentoring young men, by providing them with experience and culture that will help them succeed in life.

“…And so, I think that’s the thing I want to attach myself with because I think that’s an important piece of our program is somebody that understands it’s a bigger than just basketball, but understands that winning part of basketball and that winning culture is a big part of the life moving forward, too,” Peevy said.

DePaul has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2004, a year before they moved to the Big East conference. The Blue Demons’ time in the Big East has not been kind to them, finishing in last place 10 of the last 12 years and only achieving a winning conference one time — in the 2006-07 season at 9-7. 

But the potential positive ramifications that the entire university can feel by hiring the right head coach go beyond the results on the court. A run in the NCAA Tournament or sustained success for multiple years increases DePaul’s exposure beyond Chicago.

In 2018, when Loyola Chicago made its run to the Final Four, attendance spiked by 54 percent and nearly doubled the per-night average from two seasons prior, according to Yahoo Sports. 

That’s why this decision holds so much weight on DePaul’s entire future. 

“This is a huge opportunity for DePaul university, too,” Peevy said. “How do we increase applications and enrollment in a time like this? Men’s basketball at DePaul might be the way. Because if more people know about our school, more people click on our website and apply to go to school here. And think about that impact and the outreach that could actually bring to the table.”