Going into basketball programs in a state of stress has been a matter, of course, for new University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball coach Russ Pennell.
"It just seems to be my plight. Every program I’ve gone into, with the exception of Arizona, had problems," said Pennell Wednesday in a phone interview. "When I was an assistant for Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State, that program wasn’t very good when we got there. When I went to Ole Miss under Rob Evans, Ole Miss was really bad. When we went to Arizona State, they had just had a point-shaving scandal. When I took over at Grand Canyon State, they had just had one winning season in 10 years.
"I don’t consider challenges anything new for new; I don’t consider it stress, just normal."
Even Arizona, where he served as interim coach after Lute Olson resigned for health reasons at the beginning of the season, was a challenge. His team was one of the feel-good stories of the 2009 tournament season when he guided the Wildcats to the Sweet Sixteen.
He said he comes into the job at UCA, which hasn’t had a winning season since it joined NCAA Division I, with his eyes open.
"During the process I know Dr. (Brad) Teague (athletic director and Tom Courtway (president) were checking me out through other people," Pennell said. "I was doing the same thing. Everybody I talked to had glowing reports about Dr. Teague and how he runs his athletic department.
"All coaches want is an athletic director who will have the coaches’ backs; that he will step up and believe in you."
He said the support he wanted went beyond monetary.
"A lot of people think that all coaches want is monetary, but it goes beyond that," he said. "I want to work at a place in which the administration does everything year-in and year-out to give your the resources for a good program. And that’s doing things to appeal to recruits and make the program special. Dr. Teague put stripes on the football field. That’s thinking outside the box. That told me he was a progressive AD."
He already has part of his staff. Anthony Boone, a former West Helena star and standout for the Arkansas Wings whom he recruited for Ole Miss and who was on his staff four years at Grand Canyon State, will join him a UCA.
"He was a great player for us and I consider him an outstanding young coach."
As soon as Friday’s introductory press conference is over, he will head to various state tournaments, including the 7A event in Conway.
"I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of Arkansas coaches, several whom I already know," Pennell said. "I’m looking forward to evaluating the talent. I know there is competition for other programs in the state, but I think we can get our share. I’m looking forward to building a strong program. I know there are challenges and it’s gonna take tome and it’s not going to be overnight but I know the formula."