By Dan Bernstein-
(CBS) That Dave Leitao feels just right for DePaul basketball right now is all you need to know about the state of the school’s flagship athletic team.
There’s comfort in settling and ease in the familiar. Athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto minimizes risk for the insular little family operation she oversees, content to welcome personalities into her world who are unlikely to upset the order by force of personality — Leitao the first time around, then poor Jerry Wainwright and then the easygoing Oliver Purnell, who glided coolly and quietly into semi-retirement on the university’s dime.
Leitao was back to relative courtside anonymity after an underwhelming run at Virginia, landing a job on Missouri’s bench and then assisting at Tulsa last season. He hadn’t been rumored to be on the list for any other open head coaching position and was never even mentioned as a viable candidate for DePaul until he was actually hired.
For this process, Lenti Ponsetto had enlisted the services of Parker Executive Search, an Atlanta-based headhunting firm. This is a move often employed by public schools, which justify the expenditure for the insulation it brings from legal disclosures required of those receiving taxpayer dollars. As a private institution, DePaul isn’t subject to those concerns, making such a decision curious.
Parker advertises its ability to “utilize our extensive contacts with thought leaders across the country” in identifying candidates and its “extensive experience in high-level negotiations” in getting the deal done. Their website states that “PES distinguishes itself with its proprietary database of sports executives, athletic directors, and collegiate & professional head & assistant coaches.”
Who knew that an assistant in the American Athletic Conference was part of some rare and valuable proprietary database?
So much for Bobby Hurley, then, whose inevitable step up from the Mid-American Conference will be elsewhere. Bryce Drew was another name connected to the DePaul opening, but he appears to be staying at Valpo in the Horizon League. There are conflicting reports regarding Lenti Ponsetto’s courtship of those two popular names, but neither of the two storylines plays out satisfyingly for DePaul fans.
If both Hurley and Drew turned the job down, it’s a stinging blow to a once-proud program that held itself to a high national standard. The idea of a rising young coach finding mid-major life and money preferable to this job — a traditional basketball school in a top-three media market — would have been unfathomable years ago. But if what Lenti Ponsetto said is true, that “in the end Dave surfaced as our number one choice,” most of us are left wondering what kind of judgment could possibly lead to that conclusion, especially with outside consultation from a firm that has a vested interest in appearing dynamic and forward-thinking.
Regardless, Lenti Ponsetto has brought Leitao back in, and things will likely be just fine. That’s how she wants it.
He’s not going to reinvent anything, make too many waves or bring unwanted attention. He’ll probably win more games than Purnell or Wainwright, elevating the team from awful to something mediocre and occasionally better than that as it prepares to debut in yet another shared, off-campus arena that Chicago is helping the school build.
Leitao arrives without the leverage to demand the kind of upgrades to facilities and budgets that demand capital campaigns and the beseeching of deep-pocketed boosters, having departed once for money only to return for opportunity.
DePaul basketball is a humble and comfy neighborhood home, aspiring to be little more. That couch that was in the basement since the front room was redecorated has been brought back upstairs. It’s a perfectly good couch, just needs a little dusting.
Homes tend to settle over time.