It was a good run. Oliver Purnell came in as a man who had built programs at his previous stops. He steadily improved basketball at Clemson and gained a posse in the upstate of South Carolina. Now he has moved along for riches and another challenge at DePaul. One thing that OP did at Clemson that I really am impressed with is getting people to care about basketball. For years, this program was written off by everyone. Now Clemson fans are beginning to demand NCAA tourney wins instead of simply hoping to avoid the ACC play-in game (affectionately known as the Larry Shyatt Invitational).
My thoughts on the matter tend to be less emotional than many, and can understand OP's plight and the decision making process that has evolved his career (and bank account) as of late. Purnell, for better or worse, pulled Tiger basketball from absolutely pathetic to stable and competitive. OP improved this program from barely achieving double digit wins in his first season in T-Town to annual contender, carding 20+ wins for most of his Clemson career. There is no doubt that both parties (CU and OP) benefited from the Old Dominion grad's time in God's Country.
So, you may ask, why is OP leaving. Several items stick out in my mind for Oliver's departure, and these will be explored as we move along after the jump.
Clemson is not a basketball school. I will not sit here and apologize for this, instead I understand this fact and realize that Clemson is, has, and probably always will be a school (and fan base) that values football over all other varsity sports. For most, basketball is a nice side item between the bowl game and Spring practice. It is really difficult for a coach to lead a program from pathetic into one of national respect while participating in one of the nation's toughest conference, only to play second fiddle to another program.
Annually, OP always was the opening act for Tom or Dabo on the booster speaking circuit. There is no question that it has to be aggravating and frustrating not having the spotlight after elevating this program in such a short period of time. Even the great Bear Bryant could not stay at a place he loved because he had to share center stage with another on-campus athletic program and Adolph Rupp. This coupled with much lesser fan support (evident by empty seats in Littlejohn) had to weigh on CU's head man.
Clemson's lack of facilities. OP repeatedly has been asking for facility upgrades even after the LJ renovation in '03. While Clemson has taken initiative to improve its on-campus basketball experience, CU pales in comparison to the upper tier ACC foes. Unless T. Boone Pickens or Warren Buffett wants to pour money into the bball program, Clemson's infrastructure will be middle of the pack (even with the alleged proposed practice facility upgrades). There is no doubt this affects recruiting and ultimately creates another limitation for him and this program. I will go one step further and say that most fans, if pressed, would vote to pour any extra infrastructure cash into Death Valley as opposed to any other campus facility. With capital becoming more and more important and the facilities arms race heating up nationwide, one's crib becomes more and more important in luring top athletes to make runs at championships.
Clemson's administration. The basketball program is far from being the only CU athletic program to be handicapped upstream. While you won't see a big stink or grudge match again (Lennon and the BOT left a lasting impression in early '90), there is definitely a rift here that will not go away. Winning becomes extremely difficult in the extremely competitive arena known as college athletics when academia and the AD have clashing objectives and motives. This is great divide has reared its head by giving compliance and admissions officials more personnel authority than a sport's coaching staff. The administration's lack of support trickles down from large to smaller instances, including items that appear to be no-brainer instant improvements that could be made (lack of and opposition to a true training table is a perfect example).
Talent and Competition. OP's move to Chicago will put him in an extremely large pool of local talent. Purnell has shown that he has the ability to lure highly rated athletes to Clemson, SC. His skills on the recruiting trail should allow him to field an very athletic team quickly in the Midwest. OP will have Big East competition as well as other traditionally strong basketball programs in the Midwest, but the increase in talent pool should allow him to grab more players on a consistent basis. With the smaller population and a basketball crazed state to its immediate North, recruiting basketball players at Clemson can be a tough chore. Reloading any talent that leaves subsequently becomes very tough.
Money. There is no doubt this AD does not want to burn through cash. The Tom Bowden meltdown probably should have gotten TDP fired. Repeatedly hemorrhaging cash on Bowden then not letting him go to Arkansas when we had a chance makes me and many other supporters even more upset. There is no doubt the athletic department is fearful of the backlash if it pisses away more money on a coach that may not produce. OP would never see the kind of money thrown at him by DePaul unless he won an ACC crown. This move made OP tons of money, and anyone who tried to deny such is either naive or just stupid.
How do these items compare to DePaul? I am no expert on DePaul basketball, but do know a little about their program and their geographical region, and will give this one a shot (anyone with more expertise on the subject is welcome to chime in and correct any misstatements I may make).
Basketball School: There is no doubt about it, Chicago is a sports city and DePaul is a basketball school. While most of us don't remember such, the Blue Demons once were a good basketball program with many good teams. Ray Meyer built this program into a solid competitor in his 42 years at the helm from '42 to '84 (including a pair of Final Four appearances and the '45 NIT Championship) and made 21 post season appearances back when this stat actually meant something. His son Joey continued this success by leading DePaul to 7 NCAA and 3 NIT appearances in his 13 seasons at the school.
The citizens of the Windy City enjoy a wide array of pro sports, including the hometown Bulls squad. If this program turns around, you can bet the city will embrace OP and this program and get behind it. There is no doubt that bball at DePaul will become the crown jewel of their athletic department if Purnell can rise this team from its current (poor) level.
Facilities: DePaul's home court is Allstate Arena. Nestled outside of the city, the arena is nothing to write home about. Dr. B brought up the idea of a replacement arena the other night (per comments here), but I don't see this being built anytime soon. Overall you cannot point to facilities as a leaving point, particularly with Clemson on the verge of committing to further facilities upgrades after the big LJ upgrade 6-7 years ago.
Administration: I would assume that the administration is behind this program, particularly with the large amount of cheddar they threw at OP to come to DePaul. They quickly axed local favorite Jerry Wainwright in January and went outside the box in picking up OP as a noted program builder.
Talent/Competition: DePaul plays in the Big East, so the upper tier competition is in line with the ACC and probably a little deeper year in and year out. There is no doubt that Chicago has tons of talent. Purnell is probably gitty about recruiting the city, much less this region. There is really nothing Clemson can do to compete with this local talent/population deficit.
Money: Purnell got a truckload of cash. IMO, DePaul paid well over market value for OP considering his struggles in the postseason.
ESPN did a nice job framing up this story line here.
So, how does this affect Clemson? First off, we will see TDP conduct an extensive search for a coach he can pick up on the cheap. Undoubtedly we will get a youngster who wants a shot at ACC blood. This contract will (and should be, considering the previous experience level) highly incentive laden and probably modeled after Swinney's deal.
I am all for injecting excitement into the program but am fearful that we will not be willing to step up to the plate and get the overall best candidate. This administration has been passive in contract negotiations and in filling positions and I expect more of the same here. OP has gained momentum for this program and we need to go out and find someone who can keep this ball rolling, as regression to early-2000's Clemson basketball is not acceptable.
What are we losing? We are losing a program builder who has brought in talent and an aggressive philosophy. We lost a coach who went out and won 20 games and earned a spot in the Big Dance annually. We lost a coach who was a great ambassador for the university and for the game of basketball. For the record, I was happy with OP's performanceto date even with the shortcomings experienced the past few postseasons. We sucked so bad when I was in school that I am still in shock that we made the ACC tourney championship game a few years ago.
OP's tenure, however, seemed to peter out as the years progressed. Clemson and OP have struggled in the NCAA tournament. Our half court sets were pitiful. Clemson was, at times, a poor fundamental basketball team. All of these signs pose the question, "Is this the top of the mountain for CU basketball under OP?". I will admit that some core fallacies that occurred over the past few years have concerned me. Clemson's inability to develop a half court offense, set proper screens, and shoot from the outside peeved me last season. Recent lack of on-court discipline and perceived complacency by this team makes me question the coach's ability to continually motivate the players year in and year out.
Overall, I think Clemson is losing a great program builder. OP rose the Clemson program from ashes to respectability, and I would like to have seen where we would be two years from now under Purnell. TDP and the powers that be have a tough job moving forward. While many fans are concerned that this program has peaked and success flat-lined over the past couple of years, Clemson historically sucked (for lack of a better word) in round ball and could not consistently contend or win until recently. I sincerely hope to avoid a fallback in recruiting this year and program success in the following years. This will depend upon the course set by TDP and others high up in the athletic department.
What do you think about OP's move? Was this move caused by CU, or was OP simply looking for more cash and another challenge? We would love to hear your opinion(s) and what you think we should and/or will see out of the administration as we move forward?