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DePaul fires men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao

The Blue Demons have finished last in the Big East for five consecutive seasons and haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 17 years.

Head coach Dave Leitao of the DePaul Blue Demons
Getty

After leading DePaul’s men’s basketball team to five consecutive last-place finishes in the Big East, coach Dave Leitao was fired Monday, the school announced.

“After evaluating where our men’s basketball program is currently and where we envision it to be moving forward, a decision was made to make a change in the head coaching position,” athletic director DeWayne Peevy said in a statement. “We want to thank Dave for his many contributions to the program, including his mentorship of our student athletes on and off the floor, his commitment to DEI efforts within our athletics department and support of our university-wide Vincentian mission. We will conduct a national search beginning immediately for our next head coach. I’m committed to elevating our program to where we are still competing during this time of year.”

Leitao, 60, was in his second stint as DePaul coach. He was re-hired in 2015 by former athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto in a controversial move, which proved disastrous on and off the court, leading to NCAA sanctions.

His return lasted six seasons, with a 69-113 record and zero NCAA appearances.

In July 2019, Leitao was suspended for the first three games of the 2019-20 season after the NCAA put the program on probation for three years for improper recruiting activity, and for failing to promote “an atmosphere of compliance.”

An former associate head coach in spring 2016 arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a recruit, who had graduated high school, for 12 days to ensure he completed the necessary coursework to make him NCAA-eligible, according to the NCAA. He eventually met the requirements and enrolled at DePaul.

The NCAA Committee of Infractions called this arrangement an “impermissible recruiting benefit,”

In 2018-19, the team finished with its only winning record (19-17) — its first non-losing record in 12 years — in Leitao’s recent tenure. The Blue Demons were runners-up in the College Basketball Invitational, a postseason tournament for teams that don’t make the NCAA tournament or NIT, and are willing to pay a reported $50,000 entry fee.

In 2020, the Blue Demons began with a 12-1 start — including a 65-60 overtime win against the reigning national finalist No. 12 Texas Tech. However, the team stumbled down the stretch with a 3-15 conference record.

Ponsetto announced her retirement in June 2020, but not before doubling down in April and rewarding her horrendous hire with a contract extension through 2024.

Overall at DePaul, Leitao was 127-148, with a 21-85 record in Big East play over nine seasons and two stints.

Athletic director Dwayne Peevy, who started in August, will make the first high-profile hire of his tenure. Peevy came to DePaul after 12 years at Kentucky, where he served as deputy athletic director and oversaw the men’s basketball program.

He has spoken of high expectations and the need to resurrect the Blue Demons’ moribund men’s basketball program.

“I was brought here for a reason,’’ Peevy told the Sun-Times this month, ‘‘to fix [men’s basketball].

“I didn’t come here to be last, We’re last again.’’

Among the names that Peevy could target: Loyola coach Porter Moser, former Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, who is now an assistant coach with the Knicks, or Duke assistant and former Glenbrook North standout Jon Scheyer.