New DePaul coach Stubblefield: Challenge ahead is exciting

CHICAGO — DePaul on Tuesday hired longtime Oregon assistant Tony Stubblefield as head coach to rebuild a basketball program that has struggled in recent decades.

Stubblefield, who agreed last week to take the job, is the first major hire for DePaul athletic director DeWayne Peevy since he took over in August after 12 years in Kentucky’s athletic department. It will be up to him to restore a program with a proud history.

“I’m very familiar with the tradition of success this program has achieved, and I know we can achieve it again together,” Stubblefield said in a statement. “The challenge ahead is the most exciting part.”

Stubblefield takes over after Dave Leitao was fired last month six years into his second tenure.

“Relationships, recruiting and vision were everything with this hire,” Peevy said. “We knew we had to find the right person for where our program is right now. Tony quickly demonstrated his eagerness to begin rebuilding this program to national prominence. That, coupled with over 28 years of Division I college coaching experience, extensive college basketball relationships, an elite history of recruiting and his alignment with our vision for the future, made him quickly rise to the top of our candidate list.”

Peevy said DePaul, with help from Chicago-based executive search firm DHR International, vetted and interviewed more than 30 candidates.

Stubblefield spent the past 11 years on Dana Altman’s staff at Oregon and was promoted to associate head coach before this past season. Oregon made seven NCAA Tournaments in that span, with a Final Four appearance in 2017 and a Sweet 16 run this year. The Ducks also won four Pac-12 regular-season championships and three conference tournaments.

Stubblefield helped assemble recruiting classes that included Troy Brown Jr., Louis King and Bol Bol. He was Cincinnati’s recruiting coordinator from 2006 to 2010 and spent six years at New Mexico State, serving as interim coach when Lou Henson missed the 2004-05 season due to health reasons.

Now, he will try to restore a program that once ruled winters in Chicago.

The Blue Demons went 5-14 overall in a season that started about a month late because of COVID-19 issues. They finished last in the Big East Conference for the fifth consecutive year at 2-13.

Leitao was 127-146 over nine years at DePaul. He led the Blue Demons to a 58-34 record from 2002 to 2005 and their most recent NCAA Tournament appearance, in 2004. But his second stint was nowhere near as successful.

DePaul plays in the powerful Big East, in a sparkling arena and in a city known for producing talented players. One of Stubblefield’s most important tasks will be keeping some of Chicago’s elite high school players home.

The Blue Demons have finished last in the Big East 11 of the past 13 seasons and have been upstaged in recent years by Loyola Chicago, another Catholic school on the city’s North Side.

The Ramblers made the Final Four in 2018 and advanced to the Sweet 16 this year in their return to the NCAA Tournament. They beat ACC Tournament champion Georgia Tech and Illinois — the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region — before losing to Oregon State. Loyola has a new coach, with Porter Moser leaving for Oklahoma and assistant Drew Valentine getting promoted to replace him.

DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban said Stubblefield is the right person to lead the Blue Demons.

“With more than 20 years of coaching experience at the college level, I know Coach Stubblefield will be an excellent mentor for our student-athletes,” Esteban said. “In my conversations with him, Tony expressed his admiration for the DePaul community, specifically our Catholic, Vincentian mission.”

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