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Veteran college assistant Russ Pennell assumed the role of interim head coach at the University of Arizona on Oct. 24, 2008, in the wake of Lute Olson's retirement a day earlier. He will oversee all aspects of the program during the 2008-09 season.
Pennell returned to college basketball on May 5, 2008, when he joined the Wildcat staff, ending a two-year stint as the head of the Arizona Premier League in the Phoenix area. He also provided color commentary for the Arizona State University radio network during the 2007-08 season. Most recently, Pennell served as an assistant coach for Arizona State for eight seasons from 1998-2006.
"This is an exciting opportunity for me," said Pennell. "I look forward to the challenge of leading this program. As the son of a former coach and one who has spent his life around the game of basketball, I'm humbled to get a chance to lead such a storied program. The proud tradition of this program is unparalleled."
While working for the Sun Devils under coach Rob Evans, the program amassed a 119-120 (.498) record that included one NCAA Tournament berth (2003) and three trips to the N.I.T. A highly competitive person, Pennell has long been considered an excellent tactician with an outstanding work ethic.
Prior to his tenure in Tempe, Ariz., Pennell served on Evans' staff at the University of Mississippi for six seasons (1992-98). In that span, the Rebels went 86-81 (.515) and made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997 and 1998. In those two seasons, Mississippi won the Southeastern Conference West Division championship and won at least 20 games. It was the first time the program had posted consecutive 20-win seasons in 60 years.
He began his coaching career at Oklahoma State University from 1990-92. In those two seasons, the Cowboys went 52-16 (.765) under coach Eddie Sutton. During the 1990-91 campaign, the Cowboys shared the Big Eight Conference championship with a 24-8 overall record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The following year, OSU posted a 28-8 record, was ranked as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Cowboys advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 in both of Pennell's seasons in Stillwater.
"Russ is a veteran assistant coach with a wealth of coaching experience," said Arizona director of athletics Jim Livengood. "His experience of working in three of the best basketball conferences in the nation will serve us well."
Pennell, 47, earned a degree in physical education from Pittsburg State University in 1989 and received his master's in P.E. from PSU in 1990.
Before joining the coaching profession, Pennell played for the Spirit Express, a traveling exhibition team from Memphis, Tenn., from 1984-88.
His collegiate playing career began at Arkansas, playing under Eddie Sutton in 1979-80. The Razorbacks finished second in the Southwest Conference. Pennell transferred to Central Arkansas in 1981 and was a two-year starter at point guard. As a senior, he led the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference with 8.2 assists per game. He was a teammate of Scottie Pippen on the 1983-84 squad.
A native of Pittsburg, Kan., Pennell is a 1979 graduate of Pittsburg High School, where he played for his father, Dewey, and was an all-state performer. As a senior, he helped his school maintain the No. 2 ranking in the state throughout the season.
Pennell is a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and is extremely active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He and his wife, Julie, were married in 1986 and have two daughters, Morgan Rachel, (born May 1, 1996) and Emily Katherine (Oct. 26, 1999).