CHICAGO — The most recent time DePaul reached the NCAA Tournament, Dave Leitao was the coach.
The Blue Demons hope he can take them there again.
Leitao, who coached DePaul from 2002-05, was brought back to lead the men’s basketball program on Sunday.
“This is a special day for my family and me,” he said in a statement. “I underestimated what a special place DePaul University and the city of Chicago are when I left here in 2005. The dedication and support here to the growth of student success is second to none, not only for a basketball program but also for the entire student body.
“I’m proud and our team will be proud to represent this great institution in one of the world’s great cities. We will exude the work ethic that drives Chicago and the region every day and look forward to everyone joining us next season.”
Leitao, who led the Blue Demons to three postseason appearances and the NCAAs in 2004 in his first stint, left DePaul to take over at Virginia. He was there for four years and was Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year in his second season.
He was an assistant to Frank Haith the past three seasons at Missouri and Tulsa.
Before coaching DePaul, Leitao was associate head coach to Jim Calhoun at Connecticut for six seasons, including the 1999 NCAA championship. He was head coach at Northeastern from 1994-96.
In nine seasons as a head coach, Leitao holds a record of 143-129, including 58-34 in his first time at DePaul. The Blue Demons were 30-18 in Conference USA during his tenure but have been in decline since then, struggling in the Big East.
Leitao replaces Oliver Purnell who resigned this month after leading the Blue Demons to a 54-105 record in his five seasons, including a 15-75 mark in the Big East. The school hired a search firm to help find a replacement and ultimately wound up going with a familiar face rather than an up-and-coming coach.
“His success here speaks for itself with three postseason appearances in three years with teams that energized our alumni and fans with their competitiveness and work ethic,” athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said.
“When he left in 2005, we recognized that it is the nature of our business that dynamic coaches get recruited away. Now we are pleased to welcome Dave, his wife Joyce and their family back to Lincoln Park with great enthusiasm for his leadership and the future development of our men’s basketball program.”
DePaul hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2004 and last made the NIT in 2007. It’s been nothing but losing seasons since then, including a 12-20 record this season. It was the fourth time in Purnell’s five years that the Blue Demons hit the 20-loss mark.
Playing most home games before small crowds at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, as DePaul has since 1980, has not helped. That will change soon.
DePaul is scheduled to move into a new 10,000-seat arena in 2017. Although it will still be a few miles from the Lincoln Park campus on the North Side, it will address some of the concerns about the facilities.