Coach Penders close to career landmark, 37 years after first game
He got his start in 1971 at Tufts University. Back then a rookie NCAA head coach, Tom Penders took over a program in need of change and worked his magic. In a matter of three years, Penders had compiled a record of 54-18.
It didn’t stop there. After Tufts there was Columbia, followed by Fordham, Rhode Island, Texas, George Washington and now Houston.
Penders went from program to program and won, and in his 34th season of turning around Division I basketball teams, he has a chance to reach a height that only 29 other coaches before him have managed to do since the NCAA was founded in 1906 – attain 600 wins in a career as a head coach.
Senior guard Lanny Smith, the only player on the roster to have played for Penders during his first season at Houston in 2004, knows the magnitude of the pending accomplishment.
"There are not too many coaches that reach that plateau. The type of coach he is, he doesn’t accept losing by any means. There’s no such thing as a moral victory here. He demands excellence. He demands perfection. I’m sure that’s the reason why he’s won so many games," Smith said.
Houston’s win over Marshall Saturday gives Penders a career record of 599-403.
Penders won’t talk about his accomplishment until the record is set, partly because he doesn’t want to take away from what his 15-3 team has done this season, or before his team faces No. 1 Memphis on Wednesday.
He admitted another reason he was reluctant to talk about it was superstition.
However, his colleague of nine years (at Texas and UH), Houston associate head coach Melvin Haralson didn’t mind sharing his thoughts on the matter.
"A lot of times people just think you throw the ball up and coach," Haralson said. "But to be able to do what coach Penders has done is phenomenal. I hope he gets his chance to be inducted in the basketball hall of fame."
Haralson said his time spent as an assistant coach by Penders’ side has made him a more complete basketball coach.
"It’s a lot of hard work on defense, but on offense he pretty much gives his players the green light and lets them do a lot of the things that they like to do," Haralson said. "Being able to play for somebody like him is a blessing. I’m just glad I’ve had an opportunity to coach with him. He’s helped me develop into being a good coach and he’s helped a lot of other coaches develop into great coaches too."
Senior guard Dion Dowell, who Penders convinced to transfer from Texas two seasons ago, said Penders’ coaching has allowed him to flourish as a player. Dowell is averaging 12.4 points per game and a career-best 7.6 rebounds per game under Penders.
"He lets his players go out there and showcase their talent. He doesn’t hold anybody back. If you can shoot the ball, he’ll let you shoot it. If you’re a great penetrator, he’ll let you penetrate. He let’s you play to your strength. The past couple of years I’ve enjoyed playing for him. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had, if not the best coach," Dowell said.
Penders has a record of 72-42 while coaching at Houston. Throughout his career, he has never left a school with a losing record.