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Monday, October 2, 2023

Men's Basketball

On his own terms: Penders steps down after six-year journey as UH men’s basketball coach

Tom Penders, left, used his final press conference as UH men’s basketball head coach to focus on the positive aspects of his tenure with the Cougars and to wish Athletic Director Mack Rhoades, right, well in his search for a replacement. | Gregory Bohuslav/The Daily Cougar

After the rumor mill had been in full swing over the last few weeks, UH men’s basketball head coach Tom Penders confirmed what many suspected by resigning Monday.

He also dispelled the notion that the Cougars would be his last stop before retirement, saying he simply felt he had done all he could in his six years at UH.

“I feel that I can do no more, and I’m very proud of what we’ve done. It’s time to move on,” Penders said. “Very few coaches get the opportunity in this day and age to stay at a great place like the University of Houston for six years. Everything in life is timing and (Athletic Director) Mack (Rhoades) and I had a great meeting yesterday. It was all positive, all about the future of the program. I am confident that Mack Rhoades will be able to build on our success, and I wish him and the program all the best.

“I am not retiring. I’m too young, I’ve got too much energy, too much passion and I can’t wait for the next challenge.”

Penders, who became the ninth coach in history to guide four schools to the NCAA Tournament and leaves with a 121-77 record at UH, also indicated that his experience leading the Cougars was one he will relish for its unique circumstances.

“This was different,” he said. “This was a real challenge, because of some of the things we don’t have. But I love challenges.

Although Penders, 64, stepped down voluntarily, he is still under contract through 2012, meaning a buyout will have to be negotiated between him and the University. Rhoades said that he would eventually address the buyout, which could be as high as $500,000 — the sum of Penders’ base salary over the next two seasons.

“In terms of compensation, it would be premature for me to talk about that,” Rhoades said. “We will work with Tom to negotiate a fair exit. It’s what he deserves.”

Rhoades, who took office last August, also touched on the search process for Penders’ replacement and indicated that securing new facilities would be a key component for potential candidates.

“We’re certainly going to do our due diligence. It’s an important hire for this institution, in terms of where we want to take the program,” Rhoades said. “Tom did a great job of moving the program forward and now it’s my job, our job with the next coach to try to move that even further, and I think we can do that.”

“It’s going to be a leap of faith for that coach. We’re going through that process, in terms of the feasibility study, and we’ll let them know that we’re going to do everything we can for new facilities and that’s all you can do at this point in time. We’re going to need to bring in somebody who’s not afraid to work.”

Even before UH’s disappointing regular season, in which the Cougars went 15-15 overall and 7-9 in Conference USA before winning the league tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAAs, many had dubbed this a make-or-break year for Penders, leading to early speculation regarding a possible replacement.

Local media outlets have mention several candidates, including Billy Gillispie, who’s had head-coaching success at UTEP, Texas A&M and Kentucky. Rhoades said he has not yet settled on a working list nor spoken to any candidates.

“I have not spoken with any former or current coach, head or assistant, about this job, whatsoever,” Rhoades said emphatically. “I’ll begin that process this afternoon.”

As for Gillispie, Rhoades stopped short of ruling him out.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Certainly there’s that possibility, and people know that Billie and I worked together.”

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