DePaul coach Oliver Purnell yells tp his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern on Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: ILNH112
Updated: April 12, 2014 6:23AM
The contract DePaul gave basketball coach Oliver Purnell in 2010 is binding the school to him for now, despite three 20-loss seasons, but that may change if the program continues to fail.
Athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said the contract, worth approximately $15 million over seven years, is not the only reason the school is retaining Purnell. She said the deal was based on a belief it would take “four to five years’’ to see progress. Purnell is in his fourth season as coach.
While details of the contract are private, the final two years may not be guaranteed once year five is reached.
“There’s no edict that this is the just the way it’s going to be,” Ponsetto said of the financial burden preventing a coaching change. “It may just be it’s going to take him longer here to get that done. But it’s not like we didn’t recognize that when we asked him to come here, because one of the things he said was ‘it might take me longer at DePaul than other places’ because we had to do some infrastructure things to enhance the program, and we have.’’
On Wednesday, DePaul (11-20, 3-15 Big East) again enters the conference tournament as the lowest seed. It is Purnell’s third season with 20 or more losses; his other season ended with 19 losses.
“Anytime you lose someone who’s been here a long time [leading scorer Cleveland Melvin], it’s going to hurt,” Purnell said. “But our young guys were impactful and will be impactful as time goes by, and that speaks to a bright future for them and DePaul.’’
Freshmen Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV were named to the conference all-rookie team, and Garrett Jr. is considered the favorite to win rookie of the year when it is announced Wednesday.
Ponsetto said the Demons were progressing until Jan. 25 when Melvin was suspended and Garrett Jr. suffered a serious episode related to sickle cell disease. Hamilton IV and junior Charles McKinney also were injured and couldn’t play that day against Seton Hall.
DePaul has gone 1-10 since.
Ponsetto said the school still expects Purnell to repeat what he did at Old Dominion (two winning seasons in three years and three post-season trips), at Dayton (six winning seasons in nine and five post-season appearances), and at Clemson (five winning seasons in seven and six post-season trips).
“The bottom line is we have a coach who has been successful everywhere he’s been,’’ she said. “It’s about sticking with it and grinding it out and recognizing that there is light at the end of the tunnel — at least that’s where we’re putting our confidence and faith, based on his experience.’’