I planned on writing this post about a month ago after DePaul University finally dismissed Jerry Wainwright from his position as head basketball coach. But I decided to hold off and at least see how the team responded to interim coach Tracy Webster.
I’ve now seen enough.
In his brief tenure, Webster has gone just 1-7, and the Blue Demons have now lost 29 of their last 30 regular-season Big East contests.
Not only should such horrendous play not be tolerated in a basketball city such as Chicago — it shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.
I attended DePaul for four years as an undergraduate after growing up as a Blue Demons fan in the Chicagoland area. I then went back and received my Masters there a few years later. Obviously, I hold the school in high regard — which is why I’m so frustrated by the ills that the basketball team has endured since the mid-90’s.
It’s also why I’m pushing athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto to hire former UCLA head coach and current ESPN analyst Steve Lavin as the team’s next basketball coach.
I’ve always held Lavin in high regard since he took over the mess left by Jim Harrick at UCLA in 1996. After serving as an assistant under Gene Keady at Purdue for three seasons, Lavin arrived back home on the west coast when he accepted a similar position on Harrick’s staff. As a key assistant in Westwood, it was only natural for him to get the chance to restore the Bruins program after Harrick was dismissed amid recruiting violations.
And did Lavin ever restore the Bruins.
He promptly led UCLA to five Sweet Sixteen appearances and one berth in Elite Eight during his tenure at the school. He and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski remain the only coaches to take their teams to the Sweet 16 five times in six seasons.
A look at Lavin’s time with the Bruins (1996-2003):
1996-97: 24-8, 15-3, Elite Eight
1997-98: 24-9, 12-6, Sweet 16
1998-99: 22-9, 12-6, First Round
1999-00: 21-12, 10-8, Sweet 16
2000-01: 23-9, 14-4, Sweet 16
2001-02: 21-12, 11-7, Sweet 16
2002-03: 10-19, 6-12
Career: 145-78, 81-48
After his first and only losing season in 2002-03, he was fired, paving the way for his current position at ESPN.
Lavin was a guest on Chicago’s “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000 this week and said he’d “absolutely” be “intrigued” by the opening at DePaul.
“It's a program that's got great history, great tradition,” Lavin said. “I know they're going to do a thorough, national search.”
My message to Ponsetto: you better do a national search, because if you want your program to be taken seriously in the Big (B)east, you have to bring in an established coach with a passion for recruiting both locally and nationally.
Wouldn’t Lavin fit the criteria?
Ponsetto stated that one of the qualities she’s looking for in a new coach is the ability to win on a big stage. Doesn’t that make Lavin one of the top candidates for this job?
“There's no doubt if you look back at the history, the heritage of that program and the kind of city Chicago is and where they're located geographically in terms of the talent base, it's a very intriguing job,” he said.
I am getting revved up just thinking about the possibility of DePaul basketball being put back on the map, not just locally but nationally — the days when Dave Corzine, Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings ruled the court under Ray Meyer’s leadership.
Heck, I’d even settle for competitive teams with players such as David Booth and Tom Kleinschmidt led by Joey Meyer.
Can you imagine bringing in a coach such as Lavin, who is 10-1 in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament? A coach who went 10-4 against the Bruins’ main rival, USC? A coach who notched victories over top-ranked teams four years in a row?
At UCLA, Lavin’s staff twice signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, including getting seven McDonald’s High School All-Americans. Sure, DePaul isn’t UCLA. But wouldn’t Lavin bring in an incredible amount of credibility? And wouldn’t the fact that seven of his former Bruins are currently in the NBA sell recruits on playing for him — in a major city?
DePaul basketball is a brutal product to watch right now. And while I admit that playing off-campus at Allstate Arena is a detriment — a serious detriment — didn’t fans, including students, come out to the games when Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons and Lance Williams were trying to lead a Blue Demon revival under Pat Kennedy?
They sure did.
If you win, they will come.
And under Steve Lavin, the Blue Demons would be winners.
Plus, we’d get to see a lot more of Lavin’s wife, actress Mary Ann Jarou of How I Met Your Mother, General Hospital and Entourage fame.
See, it’s a win-win.
So I’m asking you Ms. Ponsetto — no, begging you — to make the call to the guy with the best hair on TV.
And the best credentials to lead DePaul back to respectability.
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