DePaul Shows Wainwright DeDoorPosted by jstevrtc on January 11th, 2010
OK, maybe that headline’s a tad unfair, because by just about every account, Jerry Wainwright is a top guy. Who knows, maybe being a nice guy got him a little more time at DePaul than anyone else would have received. Either way, Wainwright was let go today as head coach of the Blue Demons. He took over before the 2005 season and built a 59-80 record while running things there. In a twist that might make that ol’ Yalie Stephen V. Benet proud, it’s now The Demons and Tracy Webster, the assistant who was promoted to interim head coach for the rest of this season. The buzz on Wainwright’s departure began in earnest last night, but we should give props to Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy for listing him as numero uno on his list of coaches under pressure in a pre-season article.
Wainwright’s squad had started out 5-1 this season, scoring wins over a decent Detroit team, losing a close one to current darlings Tennessee, and handing 14-1 Northern Iowa their only blemish on the season. There were a few cupcake wins and a couple of setbacks to a pair of pretty good SEC teams in Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. These early performances likely served to mitigate the sting left over from last year’s crippling 0-18 conference record, but then came a home loss to American (3-13), a loss at Florida Gulf Coast (5-10), and eventually three convincing losses to Big East powerhouses (at Pittsburgh, Georgetown, at Villanova) to start the conference slate that put the Blue Demons at 7-8, and turned out to be Wainwright’s undoing. In that last game against Villanova, by the way, Wainwright actually suffered a torn MCL and broken tibia when he was hit by a diving player near the DePaul bench.
In her announcement, DePaul AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto actually commended Wainwright on his “service to our student-athletes and our university community,” and noted how he “provided unwavering leadership in assisting our student-athletes in their academic and personal growth.” She even remarked on how he was a leader in improving the program’s facilities, increasing the travel and recruiting budgets, and “improving the overall infrastructure.” Later, though, she stated that a national coaching search will take place at the end of the season (Webster will be allowed to apply, if he wants) and that the school will spare no expense to find an “established coach” who will be able to recruit big-time high school stars from around the country, but still “maintain the academic integrity.” The latter is an area in which Wainwright especially excelled. “Our academic success has been the best it’s ever been” under Wainwright, she said.
Now, we know how tough it is to have it both ways in college sports. It’s sort of like a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for college athletics in that it’s impossible to be both an elite academic school but still be able to bring in those top-flight athletes. That debate is a little beyond this particular piece. But was that Wainwright’s downfall? The guy’s a good basketball coach, having been to the NCAA Tournament on three occasions (at previous jobs at UNC-Wilmington and Richmond) and posting a few 20-win seasons, including one at DePaul in the 2006-07 season. But did his team’s classroom achievements come at the cost of on-court achievements? Hard to say. But we’re constantly amazed at how schools like DePaul (and we’re also lookin’ at you, St. John’s) simply can’t get their acts together. DePaul has basketball tradition to the point where you can definitely say they were once a “basketball power.” It’s in Chicago, which has some allure. And we know there are ballers there. Chicago has always been fertile ground for recruiters. It’s a huge school in a big town, so there’s no area of study that you can’t pursue if you decide to be a student-athlete there. Why, then, is it so hard for DePaul and other schools like it to get back to prominence?
We’ll see if Ponsetto and the rest of the DePaul athletics cognoscenti have the answer (and the pocketbook) after the season. As for now, aside from letting his broken leg heal, we wonder what’s next for Jerry Wainwright. Frankly, we hope he becomes a member of the media, because he’s quite the clever fellow and he can definitely tell a story and deliver a line. We’ll leave you with a personal favorite, speaking about a pair of consecutive games earlier in his DePaul career: “I heard one was the best win for DePaul basketball in ten years, then I heard the other one was the worst loss in DePaul basketball history. It was like the day before I got married and the day after I got married.”