Central Arkansas tabs former Bear Russ Pennell to be its head coach
CONWAY, Ark. -- Former Central Arkansas Bear Russ Pennell is returning to the university as the head men's basketball coach.
Pennell, 53, was introduced at a Friday news conference in Wingo Hall as the new Bears coach by Dr. Brad Teague, UCA director of athletics. Pennell, in turn, introduced his associate head coach, Anthony Boone, a Helena native who was with him at Grand Canyon.
"Russ Pennell is the total package," Teague said. "He recruits relentlessly for quality students who make excellent teammates and ultimately great teams. Coach Pennell wants his players to succeed in academics and in life as much as the success they will find on the court.
"Coach Pennell's attention to detail ensures an efficient operation. He and his staff will work extremely hard for UCA and our basketball program. We are very pleased Coach Pennell choose to come home to UCA."
Pennell, from Pittsburg, Kan., played two seasons at UCA under Hall of Fame head coach Don Dyer. His coaching resume since then is thorough and impressive, as is the list of coaches he has worked under, including Hall of Famers Eddie Sutton and Lute Olson.
"Coach Pennell's resume is extensive," Teague said. "I watched him coach for several years at Ole Miss when I worked there. He was the most involved coach in game planning and coaching. I was impressed 15 years ago and he has only grown and experienced more since that time.
"To have four different major conference programs and five years of head coaching experience on any resume is hard to find. But for that person to also have UCA as their alma mater is special."
Pennell served as an assistant coach for Sutton at Oklahoma State, for Olson at Arizona and for Rob Evans at Ole Miss and Arizona State. He was interim head coach at Arizona in 2008-09 when Olson retired due to health concerns and led the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.
Pennell was head coach at Grand Canyon from 2009-13, a school currently transitioning to Division I. He put together a 72-44 overall record, including a 23-8 mark in 2012-13, and took the Antelopes to consecutive Division II national tournaments.
Pennell coached the Phoenix Mecury of the WNBA in 2013 and guided the team to the Western Conference finals.
Pennell played for the Bears from 1982-84 and played in 58 games. He still holds the career assist record with 341 in just two seasons. Pennell is also No. 2 in season assists with 220 during the 1983-84 season. His single-season average of 7.6 assists per game in 1983-84 is still the top average in school history.
First on the agenda for Pennell is recruiting, and he took the NCAA recruiting test Friday morning so he can hit the ground running.
"The first thing is to get some reliable kids in here," Pennell said. "And I like to get young kids, simply because they are going to be in your program a long time.
"We're going to look everywhere, and that means in this country, out of this country, juco, high school. We want to turn over as many rocks as we can and find the right fits. We have some pretty good ideas about a mix we have right now of high school, juco guys we're looking at. We know we have some ground to make up but there are a lot of good players in this country and we have to find a few."