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DePaul fires Tony Stubblefield after two-and-a-half dismal seasons

Mar 8, 2023; New York, NY, USA; DePaul Blue Demons head coach Tony Stubblefield reacts as he coaches against the Seton Hall Pirates during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2023; New York, NY, USA; DePaul Blue Demons head coach Tony Stubblefield reacts as he coaches against the Seton Hall Pirates during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports (USA TODAY Sports / Reuters)

The longest-struggling power-conference program in men’s college basketball is once again searching for a savior to return it to relevance.

DePaul fired head coach Tony Stubblefield on Monday, citing the program’s lack of progress in his two-plus seasons at the helm.

Not only did Stubblefield go a dismal 28-54 during his DePaul tenure, the Blue Demons are less competitive than ever so far this season. They’re 3-15 overall and winless in Big East play. All but one of their seven conference losses has come by at least 14 points.

"After evaluating the current state of our men’s basketball program, a decision was made to make a change in the head coaching position,” athletic director DeWayne Peevy said in a statement. “We want to thank Coach Stubblefield for his hard work and determination over the last two-plus seasons to move our basketball program forward through a new era for DePaul Athletics. Unfortunately, we did not meet our goals.”

The firing of Stubblefield marks DePaul’s fifth head coaching change since its last NCAA tournament appearance in 2004. The Blue Demons’ NCAA tournament drought is the longest among power-conference programs. Only Washington State and Boston College also haven’t made it in more than a decade. The other 77 power-conference programs have each earned one or more NCAA bids since 2014.

Truth be told, DePaul has seldom even flirted with the NIT during its run of futility. The Blue Demons have won barely 20% of their league games since joining the Big East. Eleven times since 2006, DePaul has finished last in the Big East standings. Every time the program seems to hit rockbottom, it finds a way to drill down deeper.

Hope seemed to arrive in 2020 when DePaul replaced unpopular longtime athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto with John Calipari’s right-hand man at Kentucky. Peevy provided a long-overdue infusion of energy, setting a goal of building the DePaul program to a level at which making the NCAA tournament was the floor, not the ceiling.

While Peevy has spearheaded fundraising for a badly needed new on-campus practice facility for DePaul basketball, his first head coaching hire hasn’t produced the intended results. Peevy interviewed Chicago-area native Jon Scheyer for the job in 2021 before ultimately plucking Stubblefield from Dana Altman’s staff at Oregon instead.

Matt Brady will serve as interim head coach the rest of the season while Peevy conducts a national search for Stubblefield’s long-term replacement. The program desperately needs a coach who can rally a dwindling fanbase, raise NIL money, capitalize on DePaul’s improving facilities and attract talent to a forlorn program.

The Messenger’s Jeff Goodman floated scandal-tainted former LSU coach Will Wade as an option. Other less controversial possibilities include well-traveled but well-respected Tom Crean or successful Grand Canyon coach Bryce Drew.

In August 2020, Peevy made it clear he understood the urgency of rebuilding a DePaul program that was the biggest basketball draw in Chicago in the heyday of Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings.

“Our generation knows the brand,” Peevy told the Chicago Tribune, “but if we don’t hurry up and take advantage of that, there will be no generation who has seen that success.”

Stubblefield couldn’t get DePaul any closer to recapturing its glorious past.

Now it’s up to Peevy to try again.