Tom Penders resigned Friday as GW men’s basketball coach calling it “time for a sabbatical” from coaching as he addressed a Smith Center room filled with players, students, his family, local media and GW staff at a 5 p.m. press conference. He said the decision has nothing to do with events in 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 honestly say I have absolutely no regrets.”
Penders’s resignation comes amid a turbulent period for the Colonials program. Four players admitted last week to using the long-distance access code of Penders’s son, 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 failed to inform Athletic Director Jack Kvancz about Cosby’s legal situation. Kvancz said Tuesday that it was “a problem” that Penders did not tell him.
The resignation makes GW the second-straight school Penders has left under scandalous circumstances. The University of Texas bought out the remainder of Penders’s contract in April 1998, after questions surfaced about his involvement in releasing grades of former player Luke Axtell to a local radio station. The contract buyout ended a successful 10-year tenure that included seven NCAA appearances and a 1989-90 trip to the Elite Eight.
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’s remarks. Kvancz said Penders’s 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),” Kvancz said. “It dawned on me that he had been doing this for over 30 years. And in the weeks after the Atlantic 10 tournament, I sensed that he was tired.”
Kvancz looked over to long-time friend 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 and the University of Texas, Tufts, Columbia, Fordham and Rhode Island universities, said there is a possibility that he would return to coaching.
“I may be back doing this again, I’m crazy enough,” he said.
Kvancz confirmed Penders’s notion, saying he “expects after a brief hiatus that he might be back.”
Although the status of Penders’s four assistant coaches was not discussed at the press conference, Tommy Penders Jr. cleaned out his office Friday and assistant coach Jimmy McGovern said he is looking for work. The assistant coaches all met with Kvancz Saturday morning inside the Smith Center. They will remain employed at GW pending appointment of a new coach, Kvancz said.
Penders said GW will honor Penders’s contract, which has three years left on it. He called the agreement with GW “extremely kind,” but declined to give details. Kvancz said they have “worked out an understanding.” The contract is believed to be somewhere in the $450,000-a-year range, according to a 1998 Dallas Morning News article.
When asked Sunday why the University honored Penders’s contract, Kvancz said, “It was the class thing to do.”
Penders leaves GW with a 49-42 record, including one NCAA tournament appearance. He mentioned the team’s last-second 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 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’s team. The Colonials were involved in an off-court melee with the University of Tennessee in Hawaii in December and engaged a scuffle with Duquesne during a game 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 GW assistant coaches and current St. John’s University assistants Kevin Clark and Mike Jarvis II have been mentioned as possible replacements for Penders as well as GW women’s head coach Joe McKeown. That decision will be up to Kvancz, who said Sunday that he has not spoken with anyone about the coaching position.
Kvancz focused his comments Friday on his longtime friend.
“On behalf of the University, with warmest regards from Bob (Chernak), myself and President (Stephen Joel) Trachtenberg, we wish you the best in whatever you do.”
-Rich Murphy contributed to this report.