By Chris Emma-
(CBS) Believe it or not, it’s not a crazy thought to claim that the DePaul coaching opening has appeal.
DePaul has a basketball program with tradition, is located in Chicago — not only one of the greatest cities in the world, but a rich recruiting ground — and has an incredible new near South Side arena being built that will soon serve as home.
The fact that the Blue Demons haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2004 is stunning, given all the program has to offer. Of course, none of the city’s other teams have made it to the Big Dance since that point, too, which would suggest there’s something wrong with Chicago basketball.
There’s not. Each program — DePaul, Chicago State, Loyola, Illinois-Chicago and even Northwesten — has endured seperate circumstances that have led to tournament droughts.
In the specific case of DePaul, five years and a 54-105 record proved that Oliver Purnell wasn’t the right fit for the Blue Demons. He was a success at four prior spots, a program-builder who got that specific job done. But DePaul is different than Clemson, Dayton, Old Dominion and Radford.
Purnell wasn’t able to win over Chicago’s top talents. The Blue Demons were technically in the running for Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, but that was more of of a facade. Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari and Tom Izzo have poached from DePaul’s backyard.
One of Purnell’s greatest obstacles was establishing himself in Chicago — a process that included building relationships within the city’s basketball scene. He was seen as an outsider, picked over worthy local candidates. Purnell was exiled by many, forced to make amends with relationships he could never even begin to form.
“I don’t think I realized how challenging it was,” Purnell said in an exclusive interview in September. “I certainly did the day after I took the job, when guys were saying, ‘Who is that guy? Where is he from? He’s not one of us.'”
Because of this, among so many other reasons, DePaul must get this hire right. It needs to hit a home run. But above all, it must pick a coach to cater its greatest asset, its best chance for a turnaround: Chicago.
What the Blue Demons needs is someone who can handle the rigorous demands of coaching, recruiting and building in Chicago. Beating out Krzyzewski, Calipari and Izzo isn’t easy, but there are some suited to do it.
It’s not out of the realm that DePaul can reach a revival. It just needs the right coach.
Let’s take a look at who’s in the running.
To begin its coaching search, DePaul has hired a search firm to find the right fit. A list of names is being compiled, and the process of identifying the next hire is expected to take several weeks. Below are names that will likely be targeted in this search.
Kenny Payne, 48, assistant coach, Kentucky — The right-hand man of John Calipari and an ace recruiter in Chicago, Payne was instrumental in the development of Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. He would be a natural fit in recruiting big-name talent to DePaul.
Bryce Drew, 40, head coach, Valparaiso — Known best for “The Shot” in Valpo’s 1998 NCAA Tournament upset of Ole Miss, Drew has followed the family tradition as a successful head coach. Drew has the Crusaders back in the Big Dance for the second time in his fourth season. He was briefly a Chicago Bull, too.
Ben Howland, 57, former UCLA head coach — There won’t be anybody else on the market available with Naismith Coach of the Year on their resume, which makes Howland an intriguing candidate. He guided UCLA to three straight Final Fours. DePaul must consider him as an option.
Bobby Hurley, 43, head coach, Buffalo — A former Duke star, Hurley has become a rising name in the coaching ranks, building Buffalo into a tournament team in just his second season. Hurley has the name recognition to succeed at DePaul.
Tom Crean, 48, head coach, Indiana — It’s been indicated throughout basketball circles that Crean is looking for an out at Indiana, collecting a hefty buyout and moving on to a fresh start. DePaul could be an excellent fit, a place where he has a better chance to succeed, with lowered expectations compared to those in Bloomington.
Steve Masiello, 37, head coach, Manhattan — One of the hottest rising names in coaching, Masiello will be worth a look for DePaul following two straight NCAA Tournament berths with the Jaspers. The (all-too recent class of 2014) Kentucky graduate and Rick Pitino disciple will get looks for high-major jobs.
Craig Robinson, 53, ESPN analyst, former head coach — While a source has indicated Robinson is the leading candidate for UIC’s opening, the former Northwestern assistant and head coach at Brown and Oregon State should get interest from DePaul. Oh, and the Chicago native is Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. Could you imagine POTUS sitting courtside with Ozzie Guillen at Allstate Arena?
Brian Wardle, 35, head coach, Wisconsin-Green Bay — A Claredon Hills native, Wardle has built Green Bay into a winning program, falling just short of the tournament in a loss to Bryce Drew’s Valpo team. While Wardle may not be ready for DePaul just yet, he’s certainly worth an interview.
Tavaras Hardy, 35, assistant coach, Georgetown — A Northwestern graduate, former Wildcats assistant and the current right-hand man to John Thompson III at Georgetown, Hardy would be a good mesh of local ties and fit to the new Big East. The concern is that he’s just 35 years old.
Ty Corbin, 52, former NBA coach — Perhaps the proud DePaul alum and 11-year NBA assistant would be a good fit leading his alma mater. However, the lack of college coaching experience makes Corbin lower on the list of options.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.