Oliver Purnell-NCAABB FanHouse

Posted by Zotta Rendevouz

I know I did not see this one coming. Heck, I never even heard Oliver Purnell mentioned in relation to the DePaul search for a new coach.

There will be a 2:30 PM ET press conference by DePaul to announce the hiring of Oliver Purnell. After never having a chance big name successful coaches like UCLA's Ben Howland and Pitt's Jamie Dixon, and in the process missed a chance to nab Tony Barbee, DePaul had appeared to finally come back to reality. They had interviewed Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus. Dayton's Brian Gregory appeared to be a coach they were pursuing.


Purnell has built a reputation as a coach that can rebuild. He spent nearly a decade at Dayton, putting the foundation in place for Brian Gregory to build upon. At Clemson, the Tigers finished below .500 in the ACC for the six years prior to his arrival in 2003. After a rocky first couple of years, he has had Clemson get to competitive to upper-half of the ACC. In the last three years, Clemson has been in the NCAA Tournament.

Purnell has shown that he can win and recruit regardless of geography as shown at Dayton and then Clemson. He plays an aggressive, up-tempo game which the fans like.

The one knock on Purnell is that while he can build a team, and make them competitive. The one thing he can't do is win the bigger games. He is 0-6 in six NCAA appearances. Considering how low DePaul is at this point, worrying about winning NCAA Tournament games is getting way ahead of what is needed for the Blue Demons.

Purnell will be introduced at a 2:30 p.m. ET news conference Tuesday in Chicago, DePaul spokesperson Greg Greenwell confirmed.

"DePaul presents a great opportunity,'' Purnell told ESPN.com Tuesday morning.

[+] EnlargeOliver Purnell
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOliver Purnell said the challenge of rebuilding DePaul attracted him to his new job.

The stunning hire -- culminated shortly after the Duke-Butler NCAA national championship game -- salvaged a search for a new coach that lasted nearly three months.

The Chicago Tribune and FoxSports.com Web sites, both citing sources, first broke the story in the early morning hours Tuesday.

"It's a super job,'' Purnell said. "They are very, very committed to restoring a tradition and make DePaul Chicago's team.''

Purnell wasn't on any reported DePaul prospective hire lists throughout the winter. He said Tuesday he was contacted four or five days ago. DePaul had made overtures all over the country and few seemed to know where Blue Demons were headed.

DePaul interviewed Minnesota Timberwolves assistant and former New Mexico State and Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus late last week for the job.

Jerry Wainwright, who had two years left on his contract, was fired as coach on Jan. 11, with the Blue Demons at 7-8 overall, 0-3 in the Big East.

DePaul finished the season 8-23 overall and dead-last in the Big East at 1-17 under interim coach Tracy Webster.

DePaul went winless in the Big East in 2008-09 and finished 9-24 overall that season.

Meanwhile, Purnell took Clemson to the 2010 NCAA tournament with a 21-10 record (the Tigers lost to Missouri in the first round 86-78). Clemson was 9-7 in the ACC.

Purnell reached the NCAA tournament with the Tigers in three straight seasons, losing in the first round in each of those appearances. He was 138-90 in seven seasons at Clemson, but 50-62 in the ACC.

Prior to Clemson, Purnell resurrected Dayton in a nine-year run that ended with a 24-6 record and an NCAA appearance. He made two NCAA tournament appearances at Dayton.

He also coached at Old Dominion for three years (one NCAA appearance) and three seasons at Radford. Purnell has never won an NCAA game.

Purnell said the move was much more about the challenge at DePaul and had nothing negative to say about Clemson.

"I hope they feel we left the program in great shape,'' Purnell said. "I feel that way.''

DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto made it clear a few weeks ago that the school was ready to make a big splash, saying the next coach could be among the highest paid in a conference that Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, Bob Huggins and Jim Calhoun call home. She went with Purnell after interviewing former NBA star and Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus. Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, UCLA's Ben Howland and Chicago native Isiah Thomas also surfaced in reports.

Purnell's decision stunned the Tigers, who went 21-11 this season. He signed a two-year extension with Clemson in June and was making more than $1.3 million a year, but his buyout was only $250,000.

In a statement, Clemson athletic director Dr. Terry Don Phillips said Purnell "is one of the most respected coaches in college basketball and one of the most respected people on this campus and we hate to see him leave."

He joins a long line of Tigers coaches who have left what appeared to be a program on the rise for a challenge in a different league. Bill Foster, who led Clemson to the Elite Eight in 1980, left in 1984 to restart the basketball program at Miami. Cliff Ellis, the Tigers winningest coach, left in 1994 to go to Auburn, and Rick Barnes left for Texas in 1998 after leading Clemson to three straight NCAA tournaments.

DePaul has struggled in the 16-team Big East. "On paper, it looks very tough," Purnell said. "But once I evaluated this I saw that this was like a lot of the jobs I've had before Clemson. They were tough jobs as well."

DePaul presents a number of challenges. The Blue Demons are less talented than the rest of the Big East. They also have facility issues -- including having to play off-campus near O'Hare International Airport at the Allstate Arena -- as well as a relatively apathetic fan base in Chicago, which tends to be a town that follows its professional teams.

Clemson, meanwhile, is consistently one of the best and rowdiest home courts in the ACC.

Clemson loses seniors all-ACC forward Trevor Booker and wing David Potter but was expected to returned the rest of its team that reached the NCAA. Most experts figured the Tigers to challenge for an upper-division spot in the ACC.

Purnell's departure means there are now two coaching openings in the ACC. Boston College is looking to replace Al Skinner, who parted ways with the program last week. Cornell coach Steve Donahue is reportedly talking with school administrators about taking over the Eagles' program.