Photo courtesy of DePaul Athletics
When DeWayne Peevy arrived in Chicago a year ago to take over as DePaul’s newest athletic director, the Lincoln Park campus was virtually a ghost town.
Most students and faculty were at home since DePaul held a majority of online courses during the 2020-21 academic year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. So, when Peevy and his family moved to Chicago, they were among the few DePaul people on campus.
“I waited till the weekend to come to the offices because I didn’t have a way to get in [inside the Sullivan Athletic Center],” Peevy said during an interview with The DePaulia. “I was staying across the street on Belden, 20 steps from the front door, but couldn’t get in and nobody was really on campus and didn’t know who to really call to get in the building.”
Peevy had his first day all pictured out: how he wanted his opening press conference to go and who he wanted to be there. But because of the pandemic, not all of those dreams were able to come to fruition.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of those things that I pictured because of what was just going on in the world,” he said. “It really focused me to get down to the work. I got a chance to [do] the best we could with a press conference, with my immediate family present. But when I really look back on how thankful we are, the students really helped get me through that.”
Those first couple of days on the job were just a microcosm of Peevy’s first year at DePaul, which included plenty of Zoom sessions, empty stadiums and arenas and not being able to meet all the student athletes right away. But there were still a lot of tasks that needed to be accomplished even with a mostly empty campus.
“The thing I thought would be the biggest challenge was really getting integrated into the campus community, especially because school was almost out,” Peevy said.
Part of the early process for Peevy was to meet with alumni, donors and people that can help grow DePaul’s brand. Throughout the first couple of months, Peevy was doing about 6-8 to Zoom meetings every day.
In addition, he had to help guide the athletic department through the pandemic, which forced traditional fall sports to move to the spring and saw the men’s basketball team face a rocky start to its season because of positive tests.
The first year also forced Peevy to make some tough decisions, including firing men’s basketball head coach Dave Leitao and then hiring Tony Stubblefield to replace him. DePaul has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2004 and has only recorded one winning season since 2007.
Peevy said that he isn’t putting a win threshold that the team needs to reach this upcoming season in order to call this year a success, but he wants to see the program make progress in the right direction.
“Everybody can see development; I see the direction [the program] is going,” Peevy said. “I want to help DePaul get there. How do you help us build this foundation where you know you are part of creating this into a success?”
One of the major parts of growing the entire DePaul brand is getting the men’s basketball program on the right track where it’s competing to make the NCAA Tournament every season — and Peevy understands how important that is to DePaul’s overall success.
If Peevy is able to help turn around the men’s basketball program, then that not only helps one team but it will help generate more revenue for the entire athletic department — which, in turn, will be beneficial to every other sport at DePaul.
In the meantime, however, Peevy is also looking to provide support for the non-revenue generating sports as well.
“The first resource we have been able to add this year has been challenge replay,” volleyball head coach Marie Zidek said. “And [Peevy] helped me secure the resources and finances to make challenge replay happen this season, and that’s, for us, has been huge.”
Now with students back on campus and DePaul allowing fans back into stadiums, the athletic department is looking to build more support for its team — including getting more students out to Wintrust Arena. In the past, student attendance for basketball games has been an issue for DePaul. But Peevy is looking to make that a more concerted effort this year by making it easier and safer for students to attend games more often.
“I think he works very hard on the issue of engagement is paramount because that helps with the retention of students, with the persistence of students and so on,” DePaul Provost Salma Ghanem said. “One of the initiatives [that Peevy is working on] is to build that bridge [between DePaul athletics and its students].”
Peevy has a long-term vision for the athletic department, which includes eventually building a basketball facility in Lincoln Park and continuing to renovate the Sullivan Athletic Center. Something that isn’t yet part of that long-term vision, but might come into play later down the road, is getting DePaul its own football program.
“Right now, from an athletics side, we have a lot of things to do before we can talk about football,” he said. “But I’m not going to say never.”