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Pennell out as UCA men's basketball coach

by Trenton Daeschner | January 7, 2020 at 3:25 p.m.
Former UCA Coach Russ Pennell is shown in this file photo.

A little over three weeks after he took a leave of absence, Russ Pennell is officially out as the University of Central Arkansas’ men’s basketball coach.

The school announced Tuesday afternoon that Pennell and UCA “have agreed to part ways.” The news was first reported Tuesday morning by Jeff Goodman, a college basketball insider for Stadium.

“After much consideration, thought and prayer, I am announcing I will not return to UCA and resume coaching,” Pennell said in a statement released by the school. “It is time for me and my family to move forward and pursue some new challenges. We look forward to the future and what God has in store for us.”

Pennell could not be reached immediately for further comment Tuesday.

UCA announced on Dec. 16 that Pennell was leaving the team for an indefinite period due to “personal reasons.” Pennell, who was in his sixth season at the helm in Conway, missed UCA’s last six games. Associate head coach Anthony Boone has led the Bears as the interim coach, and UCA (4-11, 3-1 Southland) is 3-3 during that stretch. Boone will remain the interim coach for the rest of the season, the school said.

UCA is set to face New Orleans (4-10, 0-4) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in New Orleans at Lakefront Arena.

Boone, a former player and longtime assistant under Pennell, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Friday that he didn’t know why Pennell took a leave of absence or when or if he’d be returning.

Boone said Pennell fell ill prior to when UCA was set to travel to Malibu, Calif., for its game against Pepperdine on Dec. 14. Pennell did not make the trip, and the following Monday the school announced Pennell was taking a leave from the program. Boone, however, did not want to label the deciding factor as health-related, though.

“I think he’s OK,” Boone said Friday. “I don’t know.”

Pennell finishes his UCA career 50-116 overall and 32-57 in Southland Conference play. The former UCA and University of Arkansas point guard was hired to take over the Bears’ program in March 2014.

Pennell had previously served as the interim coach of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in 2013. He was the head men’s coach at Grand Canyon from 2009-13, compiling a 72-44 record, and he was the interim coach at Arizona for the 2008-09 season, when the Wildcats finished 21-14 and made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Prior to that, Pennell had served as an assistant coach at Arizona State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Pittsburg State.

After enduring a postseason ban in his first two seasons at UCA -- a product of low Academic Progress Rate scores under previous head coach Corliss Williamson -- Pennell is widely credited for cleaning house and cleaning up the perception of UCA’s program.

Pennell had led the Bears to the Southland Conference tournament quarterfinals each of the last two seasons. That had included a quarterfinals berth in the College Basketball Invitational in 2017-18 -- UCA’s only winning season under Pennell when the team finished 18-17 overall and 10-8 in the Southland.

“Coach Pennell positively changed the culture of our men’s basketball program,” UCA Athletic Director Brad Teague said in a statement. “He was able to recruit outstanding young men to our campus who made an immediate impact. This program and our student-athletes are known for their perfect APR scores, high grade-point averages, community service and entertaining basketball. We wish Russ great success as he pursues new endeavors.”

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for the full story.


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