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'Not here to rewrite the will': Q&A with new DePaul coach Tony Stubblefield

'Not here to rewrite the will': Q&A with new DePaul coach Tony Stubblefield

It might be the toughest job in basketball, but the Blue Demons' new head coach has been preparing for this moment.

David Brown

Good morning, frents!

Two baseball victories last night and one great Midway Minute interview with a man who's about to tackle the toughest job in Chicago sports.

There are worse ways to start Hump Day.

(There's also a small bit of housecleaning news later in the newsletter, so make sure you stick around for that.)

Tuesday's results
Sox 8, Indians 5
Cubs 3, Mets 1
Red Stars vs. KC, PPD

Today's schedule
Sox at Indians (5:10, NBCSCH)
KC at Red Stars (5:30, Paramount+)
Bulls at Cavs (6, NBCSCH)
Preds at Hawks (6, NBCSN)
Mets at Cubs (6:40, Marquee)

A Q&A with DePaul coach Tony Stubblefield

DePaul's director of athletics DeWayne Peevy recently introduced new men's basketball coach Tony Stubblefield to Chicago's media and fans. An Iowa native who grew up watching DePaul and the Bulls on TV, Stubblefield was an assistant for the past 12 seasons at Oregon under Dana Altman. Other than a brief stint as an interim coach, for New Mexico when Illinois icon Lou Henson was seriously ill, Stubblefield comes in with no experience as a head coach at 51 years old.

DePaul, which hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2004, is just looking for the right person, experienced or not, to lead the program back to its past glory. Midway Minute recently spoke with Stubblefield to see why he might be the right coach for the job.

Midway Minute: Why was the timing right for you to become a head coach right now?

Tony Stubblefield: The experiences I've had as an assistant in this business over the course of the 28 years, the coaches that I've been fortunate enough to learn from from: from Tim Carter to Eddie McCarter to Lou Henson — the Hall of Fame coach — to Mick Cronin and to Dana Altman. That’s what prepared me for this opportunity.

MM: DeWayne Peevy said he interviewed 37 candidates for this job. How does that make you feel? Getting through that? How does that make you feel about yourself just getting through that?

Tony: I’m sure he had 37 great candidates. I'm just blessed and fortunate that I'm the one he chose. So let me say that. Maybe, with me, there was more of a comfort level and fit for what he was looking for.

MM: Can you draw a picture for us what success at DePaul is going to look like?

Tony: I know the history and tradition of the program, so I know what's been done here in the past. That's what I want to get back to. We want to be for Big East championships, going to the NCAA Tournament and making runs deep into the NCAA Tournament.

MM: Why it has been so long since DePaul was a winner? What was lacking?

Tony: I can't necessarily say and, obviously, I wasn't here, to see what went wrong. I can deal with trying to go about my job in the best way, moving forward to try to get basketball back on top.

MM: Do programs like Marquette and Loyola, which are regional competitors, leave clues as to what DePaul needs to do to win?

Tony: Loyola has had great success, so any program that has, you need to look at and see how they’ve done it, what they’ve built and how they did it. Marquette brought in Shaka Smart, who’s a great coach and has had great success in the past. It's going to be fun and a great challenge.

MM: DePaul put in a new workout facility on campus around the time Pat Kennedy was coach. This is going back almost 25 years. The new arena looks great but does DePaul have what it needs for on-campus workout facilities, as a Power Five school?

Tony: Without a doubt, we have in place what we need to get the program turned around. This is we have to work with, so there's no excuses. We have got to work with what we have in place right now and make it work. I've been in places where they had similar situations. Now, over the course of time, things improved. When I first got to Oregon, there wasn't a practice facility. Over the course time, we did get a practice facility and we got new offices. Those things happen over the course of time but we can’t base what we do over those things. We approach it like we have what we need right now.

MM: Are you allowed to comment yet on like Tyon Grant-Foster coming through the transfer portal from Kansas?

Tony: I can't just yet, and I can’t say anything specific about who DePaul has put in the transfer portal. I totally understand anyone who did because they didn't know, with their situation, who was going to be the coach here. I understand them wanting to weigh their options to see what was the best fit for them. I totally get it. All I have done is tried to come in and get to know the guys, tell them my vision of where I see the program going and trying to make it work with their vision for what they want, individually as well.

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MM: What are one or two of the big ways that recruiting players is different today than when you first started recruiting

Tony: The biggest difference right now is a rule that changed last week, where kids are eligible immediately upon transfer. When I started doing this 20 years ago, we never even heard of a transfer waiver; that was not really an option. You would transfer and wait a year to play at your new school.

The other thing in recruiting today that’s different: There's a lot of situations with more people involved in the process that you have to talk to and communicate with. People in a young man's circle of people that he really trusts and confides in.

MM: So you mentioned the change of the transfer rule. It seems like it's a good thing for the players, having more options and better options, but also that it makes running a program a lot harder. Is that how you would assess it?

Tony: I don’t necessarily think it makes coaching a lot harder. But I think what it does is, the days and having a team full of “your” guys for four years, is harder to do. You won’t see that as much. You’ve seen it less already. A player having great success in the first year or two might want to explore his options.

MM: What makes for a good recruiter? What makes you a good recruiter?

Tony: Building relationships — that's a very big part of it — building relationships. It is getting to know the people involved in the process and developing a level of trust. And covering all of your bases.

MM: So we've made this big change with transferring. There has been talk and attempts to form labor unions among players. Do you think that to some degree, the athletes should be treated like a university employee?

Tony: I don't necessarily know if they need to be treated like a university employee, but in giving these young men an opportunity, making sure they have more of a voice to look after their own best interest is important.

MM: Is it neat to have Troy Brown Jr. in town playing for the Bulls.

Tony: We haven't had a chance to catch up, but we will. Troy was a great — not just a good — but he's a great young man. Talented but only with us at Oregon a year. You couldn't ask for better kid or better family.

MM: What kind of offense do you want to run with the Blue Demons?

Tony: You really want to spread the floor, do a motion offense and open it up where guys have opportunities to play pick-and-roll situations. We want to space to floor and create pick-n-pop situation for the bigs and just let these guys make basketball plays, but doing it the right way.

MM: Is the college game a lot like the NBA, where there's a huge reliance on three point shooting?

Tony: I think it’s getting a lot like that. The traditional five-man game around the basket, you don't see it as much. I know that individual guys are more skilled and talented than ever, but teams need to work on opening up the floor and knocking down shots.

MM: Important to you to use a gambling type of defense or a pressing defense to create those opportunities on offense?

Tony: What you have to do: It’s important to be able to change up defenses so you can change the speed of the game if you have to.

MM: What was Lou Henson like to work with?

Tony: He was the best. On and off the court as far as building relationships, he taught me a great deal about treating people how you want to be treated yourself. He was the same talking to a janitor of the school or the president of the school. He knew everybody's name. He was such a great people person. And obviously he was a great coach, very smart, but he was just the best at relationships.

MM: You had some time as a head coach, on an interim basis, when Lou got sick. What did that experience tell you about being a head coach?

Tony: As an interim coach, I was going to do things how coach Henson wanted things done. It was an eye opening experience that helped me prepare for this moment.

MM: What motivated you to coach in the first place?

Tony: I really like working with young kids. Even when I was in college, starting my sophomore year, when we got out of school, I worked camps for eight straight weeks from June to August. I worked Iowa State’s camp, South Dakota’s camp, Nebraska’s camp, Creighton’s camp. And then towards the end of my (playing) career, hosting high school kids when they came in on visits, getting a chance to spend time with these high school kids that were visiting the college with their families. It was a way to get involved and stay involved in the game.

MM: Who's your favorite basketball player of all time? And why?

Tony: Obviously, Michael Jordan's got to be high on the list, right? My favorite of all time. Growing up in Iowa, going to school in Nebraska, I was watching the Bulls a lot. We didn't have NBA teams in our area, so we stuck to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

MM: Most people probably imagine any good college basketball coach being a gym rat with very little life outside the game. What makes you proud about your own life? That is not your job.

Tony: To really be successful at coaching, you’ve got to be a gym rat. That's what I am. I’ve coached basketball ever since I got out of college. So I don't have any other hobbies, to be honest with you. I don’t golf, hahaha. But I do feel proud of my family. My mom and dad are deceased now but spending time with my kids, my uncles and my cousins and nephews, it’s my joy.

MM: How do they feel about you and DePaul?

Tony: They're excited. I think they're happy for me and looking forward to being a part of it in just watching. Obviously, I'm closer to some family physically, being in Chicago. We’ll be able to spend more time together now, because in Eugene, Ore., you’re a little ways, northwest, away.

MM: What’s the next thing on your list to do?

Tony: We got a lot of work to do. We roll up our sleeves and get to it. There's no excuses. I'm not here to rewrite the will. DePaul has had success before. They’ve been in tournaments. They’ve won here. It’s just a matter of getting them back on track.

Previous Q&As
Ozzie Guillen

Andrew Belleson
Jerry Markbreit

Trivia

If Mike Tomlin coaches to the end of his newest extension, the Steelers will have had just three coaches in 56 years.

The Bears have had 11 coaches since Chuck Noll's first year in Pittsburgh in 1969. How many can you name?

News and Results

Fans back to the United Center?

Lori Lightfoot says she expects that Bulls and Hawks fans will return before the end of season, but each team only has seven games left. (The Hawks will be down to five after playing Nashville today and Friday.)

Also, as someone who has bad memories of watching the Hawks get waxed with only 4,000 other fans in the stands, I think I'm perfectly OK with waiting until next fall.

Final: Sox 8, Indians 5

Carlos Rodon was far from perfect in his followup, but he didn't need to be. Sox bats were blazing on April 20 as Jose Abreu got out of his slump by homering twice. Both Tim Anderson and Yasmani Grandal hit two-run shots.

  • Rodon needed 110 pitches over five innings — just four fewer than he threw last Wednesday — but still only gave up two runs in a five-walk, three-hit effort.
  • The last Sox pitcher to face the same team in his first start after a no-hitter was Eddie Cicotte, who faced the St. Louis Browns, in 1917.
  • Today: Sox starter TBD vs. Aaron Civale (3-0, 2.18)

Final: Cubs 3, Mets 1

The Cubs only collected four hits and two of them were from Eric Sogard, but scratching across three runs against Mets starter Taijuan Walker was enough on a cold night.

  • Jake Arrieta is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA after allowing just one run over five innings.
  • Craig Kimbrel earned his fourth save of the season, but not without drama. The Mets loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but Kimbrel escaped by striking out Brandon Nimmo and getting Francisco Lindor to ground out to first.
  • The Cubs caught a break earlier in the day when all-world ace Jacob deGrom asked the Mets for an extra day of rest and was granted it. Now the Nats will get him on Friday instead.
  • Today: David Peterson (1-1, 6.30) vs. Zach Davies (1-2, 1.32)

Midway Minute news! This is the last regular Midway Minute of the week as I take a breather and, better yet, enjoy some pre-planned family time. Paid members will get the April mailbag on Friday morning. (Last chance for questions!) Regular newsletter returns next Tuesday.

Get the monthly mailbag by becoming a paid subscriber!

  1. Why Luol Deng hopes Joakim Noah waits to retire as a Bull. NBC Sports Chicago
  2. Want to buy Jon Lester's old house? It'll only run you $6 mil. Tribune
  3. Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation is apparently in "turmoil" after he and his family resigned. East Bay Times
  4. The head of NBC Sports Chicago just got a big promotion from the Peacock. Robert Feder
  5. Maureen O'Donnell on Casey Bloom, a 93-year-old fisherman who was a regular at the city's harbors. Sun-Times

Trivia answers: Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron, Jack Pardee, Neill Armstrong, Mike Ditka, Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman, John Fox, Matt Nagy