Tom Penders resigned Friday as GW men’s basketball coach calling it “time for a sabbatical” from coaching and saying the decision had nothing to do with events of the past week.
“I’ve given all I have to this chosen field,” said Penders, who will step down effective June 30. “And I can honesty say I have absolutely no regrets.”
Penders’ resignation comes amid a turbulent period for the Colonials program. Four men’s basketball players admitted Monday to using the long-distance access code of assistant coach Tommy Penders Jr. to make more than $1,400 worth of phone calls.
Another incident involved transfer forward Attila Cosby, who was charged with nine misdemeanors for sexual abuse, weapons violations and theft Jan. 26. Cosby showed Penders court papers Feb. 8, but Penders did not inform Athletic Director Jack Kvancz about Cosby’s legal situation. Kvancz said Tuesday that it was “a problem” that Penders did not tell him. Cosby faces trial at D.C. Superior Court June 25 for a May 15, 2000, incident involving an alleged prostitute in his Gutheridge Hall room. A felony rape charge related to the incident was dropped in July.
Reading from a prepared speech at the Smith Center AD room, Tom Penders said he had been contemplating resigning since the season’s end.
“I’ve experienced many restless, sleepless nights,” Penders said. “My head was telling me it was time to get away from coaching for awhile, but my heart was telling me I couldn’t let Jack Kvancz and the many wonderful people at GW down.”
Kvancz was teary-eyed when he walked to the podium following Penders’ remarks. Kvancz said Penders’ 33 years of coaching appeared to be taking its toll.
“It was after the Temple game here, when we missed that last foul shot that could have won the game for us, that I really noticed a difference (in Penders). It dawned on me that he had been doing this for over 30 years,” Kvancz said. “And in the weeks after the Atlantic 10 tournament, I sensed that he was tired.”
Kvancz looked over to Penders, who sat beside Vice President for Student Activities and Support Services Robert Chernak and praised the coach.
“As I look at him, I say there’s a man who exudes class and he can coach the game of basketball,” Kvancz said.
Penders said he came to the decision about two weeks ago and said it took a little while to “work some things out.” Penders, who has compiled 527 wins in his career, which includes stints at Tufts and Columbia universities, Fordham, Rhode Island and the University of Texas, said there was a possibility that he would return to coaching.
“I may be back doing this again, I’m crazy enough,” he said.
Kvancz confirmed Penders’ notion saying that he “expects after a brief hiatus that he might be back.”
Although the status of Penders’ four assitant coaches was not discussed at the press conference, Penders Jr. cleaned out his office Friday and assistant coach Jimmy McGovern said he is looking for work.
Penders’ said his contract, which has three years left on it, will be honored by the University. He called the agreement with GW “extremely kind,” but declined to give details. Kvancz said they have “worked out an understanding.”
Penders leaves GW with a 49-42 record, including one NCAA tournament appearance. He mentioned the team’s victory over Xavier in his first season that clinched the Atlantic 10 West Division as his favorite moment as GW coach. But, since the 1998-99 season, the Colonials have spiraled downward, finishing 15-15 in 1999-00 and 14-18 this past season – the team’s first losing season in 11 years.
“It’s time to recharge the batteries, to reflect, refocus, to reevaluate and rejuvenate,” Penders said. “I’m in the position to step back and smell the roses, really for the first time in my life as a professional coach.”
Fights and recent player scandals plagued the team in recent years. This season in particular was difficult for Penders’ team. The Colonials were involved in an off the court melee with the University of Tennessee in Hawaii in December and engaged in an on the court scuffle with Duquesne in February.
In his closing remarks, Penders thanked GW’s top administrators, all of whom met with Penders several times over the last few days.
“Jack (Kvancz) is my friend and my boss, He’s been extremely supportive and understanding,” Penders said. “People like Jack, Vice President Bob Chernak, President (Stephen Joel) Trachtenberg have all been wonderful to work with. They will be lifelong friends.”
Among other names, former Washington Wizards coach Leonard Hamilton, and former GW assistant coaches Kevin Clark and Mike Jarvis II have been mentioned as possible replacements for Penders. That decision will be up to Kvancz, who focused his comments Friday on his longtime friend.
“On behalf of the University, with warmest regards from Bob (Chernak), myself and President Trachtenberg, we wish you the best in whatever you do.”
-Rich Murphy contributed to this report.