Purnell gets started at DePaul
Newly named DePaul coach Oliver Purnell can be forgiven for not updating his Twitter page yet with a Blue Demons' background.
He did get around to giving his Web site [www.CoachPurnell.com] a facelift, as it now reads, "A New Era Begins at DePaul" and shows him before a DePaul sign. But his Twitter page, along with a number of other things, have had to wait as his life has been a whirlwind since being announced as the program's new head coach on Tuesday afternoon.
After his press conference, Purnell met with his new players and let them know his vision for the future. Shortly after, he began reaching out to local coaches. On Wednesday night, he returned to his home in South Carolina and met with his former Clemson team to explain his unexpected exit. On Thursday, he was in Maryland to participate in the Seaside Christian Academy Memorial, a golf fundraiser in the memory of his late brother Dwayne, who was an administrator at the school. On Saturday, he will return to Chicago.
Throughout it all, Purnell has gone through a wide range of emotions.
"It's been tough from the standpoint I had to say goodbye to my former team and to a lot of people from our Clemson family," Purnell said on Thursday afternoon. "Yet, it's been very exciting to be in Chicago, meeting so many people, meeting the players, press, talking to so many of the high school coaches and AAU guys in the Chicago basketball community. It's been tough and exciting, but I'm definitely having a good time on the Chicago end."
Meeting with his Clemson players was the most difficult part. Many of his former players never saw his departure coming and were shocked by it. Purnell felt he owed them an explanation and wanted to return to speak with them.
"It was something I needed to do," Purnell said. "I apologized to them for not having the chance to talk to them and letting them know in person about the switch before and explaining to them before why. It's one of those things that, this is the third or fourth time I've done this, and there's sometimes circumstances where there's nothing you can do about it. I tried to explain that to my players."
As for his new job, he knew it was just as important to begin contacting the area's coaches and work on developing relationships. When he was hired on Tuesday, a number of local high school and AAU coaches had expressed dismay at DePaul's choice. Some said they had nothing against Purnell, but they wanted somebody they knew.
Purnell's objective in his calls Tuesday and Wednesday was to start fixing that.
"I understand the dynamics of the job," Purnell said. "There have been some frustrations with DePaul basketball -- that was clear. It's not my first time around the block. I understand what I was getting into.
"I'm starting a process with my team and the basketball community. It's going to be a great relationship. It's going to be a lasting relationship. It's one that will work well for DePaul but also for the basketball community. I told them, 'It's just the start. I'm reaching out. You're going to see a lot of me, a lot of my staff. We want to make this a viable option for a kid.' It should be a partnership. We're all in the city of Chicago."
Mac Irvin Fire CEO Mike Irvin was among those who heard from Purnell.
"He's doing the right thing by reaching out and sitting down and seeing how he can make this work out to get players to DePaul from Chicago," Irvin said. "It's definitely a good start. I'm happy he's trying. The thing was not that he's a bad person, but it's more so that we didn't know him. It's somebody new to everybody in Chicago. We're going to see where it goes from here. It's still early."
Many area coaches are interested to see whom Purnell brings on as assistants. Simeon coach Robert Smith has said he will cut his ties to DePaul if Tracy Webster isn't retained. There have also been mentions of DePaul's other assistants, David Booth and Billy Garrett, Southern Illinois assistant Lance Irvin and coaches from Purnell's Clemson staff as candidates to join Purnell.
Purnell said he would like to put together his staff by the end of next week.
"I don't feel any pressure to do anything except to put together a powerful staff. But to have some Chicago flavor without question is important because that just makes perfect sense," Purnell said. "I don't feel any pressure to keep anyone in particular."
The fact Purnell has been through the process of taking over a program before has helped him again this time around. He knows what's important right away and what can wait. Right now, his Twitter page and buying a house are among the things that can wait.
"Choosing where to live is a low priority," Purnell said. "That will get worked out. I'm sure my wife will have a lot of say in that. Anytime you take over a program, there are a lot of things to do. This is the fourth program I've taken over. It will be the fourth program I'll turn around.
"I'm very familiar with this feeling. It's an exciting feeling. You get your adrenaline going putting together a staff, recruiting, etc., etc. You have to make sure to take care of yourself and go from one thing to another.
"I think it's a great job and opportunity for me. I have every intention of doing whatever it takes to get the job done. I want people with me that have the same approach and attitude. I've already had a lot of fun."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.