After seven seasons, 138 wins, and three tournament appearances, coach Oliver Purnell has decided to leave Clemson for $greener$ pastures. He is off to the windy city to coach the lowly DePaul Blue Demons.
The move appears to be a win-win for Purnell. After appearing to hit a wall with Clemson, three consecutive first round NCAA tournament exits, he gets a fresh start with a new team in a new conference, and is rumored to be receiving top tier money.
The more interesting question is whether this was the best move for DePaul.
At first glance, it appears Purnell is the right man for the job. In his over twenty years as a head coach, he has turned around four different programs; Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton, and Clemson.
In each case, Purnell inherited a losing program, and in a short period of time was able to improve their fortunes. The year before he arrived at Dayton, the Flyers were 6-21. Two seasons later, Purnell had them at 15-14, and in his last season, they were 24-6 and conference champions.
He was able to do similar things at Clemson. When he took the job, the Tigers hadn't made the postseason in five years. In his second season, they made the NIT, and in each of his subsequent seasons, the Tigers made either the NIT or NCAA tournament.
His ability to bring a program back from the dead is what turned DePaul on to him. This will surely be his most daunting task. He comes into a Blue Demons team that finished this past season dead last in the Big East with an overall record of 8-23 and only one conference win. They haven't been to the big dance since '04.
Despite Purnell's impressive accolades, after digging a bit deeper, I found some things that have me questioning this hire.
First, Purnell has no ties to the Chicago area. Half of your duties as head coach are recruiting. If he is going to win games in the ultra competitive Big East Conference, he needs talent. What does he know about recruiting in the greater Chicago area? He coached in Virginia at Radford and Old Dominion, in Ohio at Dayton, and most recently in South Carolina at Clemson. Yes, he may be able to lure some east coast players to DePaul, but if he wants to have any extended success, he will need to lock down some local talent, of which Chicago has plenty.
Secondly, he has never won an NCAA tournament game. He has taken Clemson to three consecutive NCAA tourneys, only to lose in the first round each time. Most recently was this season, when they fell short to Missouri. Overall, he is 0-6 in the tournament, which ranks as third worst in NCAA history.
Lastly, at 56, he is not a young man. This is not Radford. At the moment, this DePaul team has very little skill. Turning them around is going to take time. It doesn't make it any easier that they play in the deepest conference in college basketball. Is he willing to put in the needed time?
After reviewing both sides of the argument, I don't think it unfair to question whether his heart is really in it, or if the big bucks were too much to turn down. Only time will tell...
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