For Leitao, DePaul's challenges remain the same

  • Associated PressDePaul head coach's Dave Leitao goal is to rejuvenate a program that hasn't shown much life since he left. DePaul hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since he took them in 2004.

    Associated PressDePaul head coach's Dave Leitao goal is to rejuvenate a program that hasn't shown much life since he left. DePaul hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since he took them in 2004.

 
By Scott Powers
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 12/18/2015 9:03 PM

Dave Leitao has experienced moments in recent months when his reality has seemed fictional.

Leitao has to remind himself he left DePaul.

 

"Actually being in that moment or these moments, it almost feels like as the late Yogi Berra said in his many quotes, 'It's déjà vu all over again,'" Leitao, 55, said in his office Thursday. "There have been times literally where I'm in this office or in this building or walking down the street and I'm like, 'Did I ever leave? Was I dreaming? Is there something I didn't know? Something I can't explain?'

"Obviously understanding what happened and how it happened is easy to explain. At the same point of time, it does seem strange sometimes because it rarely, if ever, happens."

When a head coach changes schools, relationships are normally severed forever because the college either fired the coach or the coach opted to go elsewhere.

Leitao did the latter. He left DePaul in 2005 for Virginia, a school he envisioned as a potential national champion. Fast-forward 10 years, and DePaul had gone 114-220 since he departed. Leitao failed at Virginia and bounced around as well.

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DePaul and Leitao decided to reunite in March. His goal now is to rejuvenate a program that hasn't shown much life since he left. DePaul hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since he took them in 2004.

Leitao's office and secretary are the same from his first stint, but plenty else has changed. Mainly, the Blue Demons have gone from Conference USA to the Big East. DePaul is 36-140 in the Big East since joining in 2005, but the league had a major overhaul in 2013 with many strong programs leaving.

Leitao faces the same hurdles DePaul's last two coaches Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell were unable to clear. Leitao believes DePaul isn't hopeless.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel," Leitao said. "We don't have to create a legacy. This program at different points of time in its history has been successful more than not be successful. It just so happens it's taken a dip and it's been a little more sustained than anyone could have imagined nor wanted.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We can get overly philosophical if we want to, but I think it comes down to you got to be able to go out and recruit good people who can play the game very well. You get those guys and you help them to develop to be better players and better people. That's how programs become successful. We can touch and talk about a million different things, but the simplicity is just that."

This season has been rocky for the Blue Demons so far. They're 5-5 and are coming off double-digits losses to Arkansas-Little Rock and Stanford. They're 169th in RPI. Up next is 9-1 Northwestern on Saturday (1 p.m. FS1).

Leitao gets why fans are impatient, but he's asking them to trust the process.

"A fan turns on the television or shows up to a game to do one thing -- to watch the team he's supporting win. You don't have to go through the process to understand why that winning happens," Leitao said. "Now that I go through the process each day with them, there's nobody as I said that wants to win more than me and my staff.

"But I also know when you do that, certain things have to be part of winning. I think that's the thing I'm privy to that somebody off the court is not. If we don't do things a certain way, then winning is not going to be a byproduct."

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