Arch Jones Jr., son of the late Arch Jones, son of the former UCA coach and athletic director, knew without a doubt what his father’s reaction would have been Friday when Russ Pennell was introduced as the Bears’ new men’s basketball coach.
“He’d be on the front row at this news conference with a big smile,” Jones said. “Big smile. He’d be jumping for joy.”
“Arch Jones kept trying to hire me when he was AD,” said Pennell, who comes to UCA with a pedigree that includes legendary Division I coaches Eddie Sutton, Lute Olsen and Don Dyer. “The timing never was right. The timing is right now.”
Dr. Brad Teague, the director of athletics who completed the cycle, welcomed the 53-year-old Pennell “back home” Friday. Pennell played point guard two years for UCA and his wife is a UCA graduate.
“We wanted a coach who had been successful, had the ability to recruit and contacts throughout the nation as well as Arkansas, had a high concern for academics and discipline and had a caring attitude for all sports,” Teague said. “Russ Pennell embodied all that and is a UCA graduate to boot. UCA should be extremely proud of the talent that was available to us for this job. Russ fit the profile the best.”
Pennell made it clear right from the beginning that he will run a disciplined program with a family-type atmosphere.
“We’ve got to upgrade everything,” he said. “It starts with a mentality. It is a privilege to play college sports, not a God-given right. If you don’t go to class, you won’t see the court. If you don’t want to play defense, you won’t see the court. I not only want to find the best basketball playes for us, I want to find the best people.”
Teague said Pennell has a four-year contract with a base salary of $135,000 per year with incentives both for athletic and academic performance.
Pennell said his style will be focused on defense. He is taking over a team that is one of the weakest defensively in NCAA Division I, one that surrendered 72 points in the second half in a loss to Northwestern State on Thursday.
“The teams that are successful at the highest level play good defense,” he said. “You can shoot a poor percentage, but if you hold the other team to a poor percentage, you can still win. When I became an assistant to Eddie Sutton, I learned about pressure man-to-man defense. We will play some zone, but man with ball pressure is what we will rely on.
“On offense, I like ball movement. You will see a lot of passes touching a lot of hands. I don’t like a whole lot of dribbling.”
Pennell played a year with Scottie Pippen and plans to reach out to him for recruiting.
“He can furnish a lead on a lot of players,” he said.
He said he plans to meet with each of his current players individually after some film evaluation.
“The first thing I want to find out is who wants to be here,” he said. “If they want to be here, then there are certain things they are going to have to do. They are going to have to buy in and be accountable. I’m big on loyalty. I want everybody pulling the same way.”
He introduced former Helena and Ole Miss star Anthony Boone as his assistant head coach, and the two plan to immediately start recruiting at state tournaments this week and next.
He said he will fill the remainder of his staff after some potential assistants complete their seasons. “We will assemble a good staff,” he said.
He said he and Boone already have eight potential recruits lined up for campus visits.
“If we get the people we are after, you will love our point guards and I said plural,” he said.
Russ Pennell is the total package,” said Teague. “He recruits relentlessly for quality students who make excellent teammates and ultimately great teams. Coach Pennell wants his players to succeed in academics and in life as much as the success they will find the court.”