DePaul tries to recapture past success by bringing back Dave Leitao

Dave Leitao while coaching at Virginia (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

When Dave Leitao left DePaul for Virginia in April 2005, he tried to soften the blow by insisting "DePaul will always have a special place in my heart."

Apparently the feeling was mutual.

DePaul announced Sunday it has hired Leitao to fill the vacancy created when the school parted ways with Oliver Purnell earlier this month. It's a surprising choice considering the Blue Demons reportedly had been targeting promising up-and-comers like Bryce Drew of Valparaiso and Bobby Hurley of Buffalo.

The appeal of Leitao is that he's the last coach to enjoy any semblance of success with the Blue Demons.

In three seasons at DePaul from 2002 to 2005, Leitao went 58-34, won a Conference USA title and took the Blue Demons to two NITs and an NCAA tournament. Leitao enjoyed some success on the recruiting trail too, plucking Delonte Holland from the junior college ranks and winning a recruiting battle with Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State to land future pro Wilson Chandler.

The trouble with the Leitao hire is that it's unlikely to either galvanize DePaul's success-starved fan base or inspire Chicago-area recruits. He had been toiling in anonymity as an assistant coach at Missouri and Tulsa under Frank Haith the past few years after his uninspiring four-year tenure at Virginia culminated in his firing following an 18-loss 2008-09 campaign.

The challenge Leitao faces at DePaul now is also considerably tougher than it was during his first stint a decade ago.

Whereas the Blue Demons enjoyed success in Conference USA, the Big East has thus far proven to be a too great a challenge. They're 36-140 in 10 seasons in the league, a product of a threadbare budget, sub-par facilities and an inability to compete with the dozens of other top programs who recruit Chicago for the city's best prospects.

The potential of a new arena could help Leitao, as could the fact that Purnell actually left him some decent talent with Billy Garrett Jr., Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton all expected to return.

DePaul apparently felt Leitao was the coach best suited to take advantage. Over the next few years, we'll find out if that gamble was better than rolling the dice on a young, energetic coach from the mid-major ranks.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!