Arizona named Russ Pennell as the interim successor to Lute Olson, who retired Wednesday to spend more time with his family.
“Russ is a veteran assistant coach with a wealth of coaching experience,” Arizona AD Jim Livengood said. “His experience of working in three of the best basketball conferences in the nation will serve us well.”
Pennell, 47, joined the Wildcat staff on May 5, returning to college basketball after spending the last two seasons running the Arizona Premier Basketball League in the Phoenix area. He also provided color commentary for the Arizona State University radio network last season. Most recently, Pennell served as an assistant coach for Arizona State for eight seasons from 1998-2006. Prior to that, he was an assistant at Ole Miss.
“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.”
Associate head coach Mike Dunlap and assistant Reggie Geary will remain on staff. It was originally reported that Dunlap would get the head job, but Jeff Goodman of FoxSports.com reports that Dunlap attempted to force a power play in which he would be named the permanent head coach immediately, and Livengood balked.
Arizona will conduct a national search to find a more permanent replacement. Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Pitt’s Jamie Dixon have both been mentioned as potential candidates.
In other Arizona news, 2009 recruit Solomon Hill decommitted in the wake of Olson’s retirement. Solomon Crawford, Hill’s father, told the Daily Star that he and his son built a particularly close relationship with assistant coach Reggie Geary, and that Geary’s uncertain future in 2009-10 became a deal breaker.
Arizona opens the regular season in McKale Center on Nov. 17 against Florida Atlantic in the first round of the Dick’s Sporting Goods N.I.T. Season Tipoff. The game will be televised nationally by ESPNU.
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.