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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Commentary

Penders’ departure positive for both sides


Although it is yet to be seen if former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie would be the best fit for the newly vacated position of head men’s basketball coach, he will most likely be the biggest name on Athletic Director Mack Rhoades’ list of potential candidates. | File photo

Tom Penders received the best ending he could have hoped for with Monday’s resignation.

UH Athletic Director Mack Rhoades is probably thinking the same about his end of the deal.

Because of that, supporters and critics alike can feel good about the way Penders and UH parted ways after a sometimes up-and-down six-year relationship.

Penders went out with dignity. Rhoades avoided having to deal with a messy divorce. UH will have a chance to hire a coach who can succeed where Penders could not. Sounds like a win-win deal for all parties.

Many had long anticipated Penders’ resignation. With the team mired in another struggling campaign, a displeased fan base, sagging attendance and an inability to reel in some of the area’s premier talent, Penders’ fate was sealed long before the Cougars’ miraculous run to the NCAA Tournament.

But he at least went out in style.

Penders leaves with memories of a Conference USA tournament championship and NCAA Tournament appearance fresh on fans’ minds. His players all appeared to be in his corner as the team entered the final stretch.

And for all of last week, the UH community threw its collective weight behind Penders, who figured he could take the program no farther.

“These are the best possible circumstances to leave under,” Penders said with Rhoades at his side during Monday’s press conference. “I feel like I can do no more and am very proud of all that has been accomplished. We have set the stage for whoever comes in here to meet and exceed where we are.”

The Cougars’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992 gave Penders the sense that he had achieved the goal he set out to accomplish when he first arrived on campus in 2004.

But the magic — and Penders’ chance to take the Cougars to the promised land — ended with Friday’s 89-77 first-round loss to Maryland.

Penders did an admirable job of turning the Cougars around from the train wreck that they once were, but it’s no longer about simply being marginally respectable each season.

The next guy needs to be someone who can energize the fan base primarily by winning, establish a pipeline that brings in top local talent, be willing to work with limited resources and stay committed to the task at hand instead of simply using UH as a stepping stone to a better job.

Former Texas A&M and Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie will likely be on Rhoades’ short list. Sam Houston State’s Bob Marlin, who led his team to this year’s NCAA Tournament, will probably get an interview.

Who knows?

The only thing UH fans are certain of is that their “March Madness” hasn’t quite ended yet.

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