Winning basketball followed head coach Tom Penders everywhere he has worked, and the University of Houston certainly was no exception.
Taking over a program that had posted double-digit wins only twice in the seven seasons before he arrived in 2004, Penders led the Cougars to five postseason tournaments and six straight winning seasons with at least 18 wins. He is the only coach in UH history to accomplish the latter feat.
With a 121-77 (.611) overall record in six seasons at Houston, he tied for the most wins by any coach during a similar stint in program history. With the program's four straight wins in as many days at the 2010 GMC Sierra Conference USA Championship, Penders led the Cougars back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nearly two decades.
He also added his name to the national records book as well. With the Cougars' 84-81 win at Conference USA rival UCF on Feb. 2, 2008, Penders recorded the 600th win of his career. Earlier in the season, he competed in the 1,000th game of his collegiate career during a 77-72 win over C-USA rival UTEP on Jan. 19, 2008.
Penders became only the 34th coach in NCAA history to reach 600 victories and only the 24th to have taken part in at least 1,000 games.
He finished the 2009-10 campaign with a 638-438 (.587) record in 36 seasons. That overall total also includes 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, seven NIT berths and two College Basketball Invitational appearances.
Prior to arriving at Houston, Penders coached at six schools and compiled winning records at all but one stop before leaving. Although he departed Columbia with a 43-60 record following the 1977-78 season, he built a program that had won only five games the year before his arrival into one with back-to-back winning seasons during his final two seasons.
Throughout his coaching career, his teams not only won but captured a national audience with their record-setting styles of play. His teams at Texas and George Washington set school records for most points in a season, and renewed fan interest at each school.
With such an impressive body of work, Penders added another award to his trophy case in the summer of 2008. For his achievements on the court and his athletic accomplishments during his playing days, Penders was inducted into the Fairfield County (Conn.) Sports Hall of Fame.
This was the third such honor he received during his career. He was enshrined into the Connecticut Softball Hall of Fame in 1989 and was selected for the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in October 2006.
Tom Penders has accomplished much during his storied career with bigger and even better things yet to come at the University of Houston.
Guards Robert McKiver and Andre Owens established individual school records for most treys in a game, season and career.
In addition to the record-setting performances, Penders also has coached 11 All-Conference USA performers after Houston enjoyed only seven All-Conference USA performers from 1997 to 2004.
Although the Cougars struggled at times during the 2009-10 season, Penders assembled all the pieces for a remarkable run at the end of the year. The Cougars won four straight games in as many days and knocked off No. 25/21 UTEP to win the GMC Sierra Conference USA Championship title game.
Houston became only the fourth team in league history to win the tournament game with four wins in four days. Most importantly, the Cougars returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992, falling to Maryland in the First Round to finish with a 19-16 overall record.
As a team, the Cougars ranked second nationally with only a school-record-low 9.0 turnovers per game. However, that achievement should be nothing new for Houston fans. It was the fifth straight season that Houston lowered its team season total in that category and marked the fourth straight year that the Cougars ranked among the top-20 national leaders in that category.
Guard Aubrey Coleman led the Cougars, Conference USA and the nation with 25.6 points per game, becoming the first Houston player to accomplish that feat. The Houston native would go on to be named to the All-Conference USA First Team for the second straight season and joined teammate Kelvin Lewis on the C-USA All-Tournament Team.
In 2008-09, Penders led the Cougars to a 21-12 record and the team's fourth postseason appearance during his first five seasons. His squad won at least 18 games for the fifth straight year, making him the only coach in program history to accomplish that feat.
Guards Aubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis were named to the All-Conference USA teams with Coleman being honored as the league's Newcomer of the Year and earning berths on the USBWA and NABC All-District teams.
In 2007-08, Penders guided the Cougars to one of their most successful seasons in recent history. With a 24-10 record, the Cougars finished third in an always competitive Conference USA and posted the program's most wins in nearly two decades.
UH earned a trip to the inaugural College Basketball Invitational for the team's third trip to the postseason in Penders' first four years. With wins over Nevada and Valparaiso, the Cougars advanced to the CBI semifinals before bowing out to eventual champion Tulsa.
The Cougars set school records in 3-pointers made and 3-point attempts and ranked among the league and national leaders in turnover margin and free throw shooting.
Individually, players shined under Penders' tutelage. McKiver was named to the All-Conference USA First Team for the second straight season and set a C-USA single-game record with 52 points against league rival Southern Miss at Hofheinz Pavilion.
With 801 points, McKiver's output was the fourth highest in UH single-season history, and the New Haven, Conn., native was rewarded by being named to the USBWA All-District VII Team and the NABC All-District 9 First Team.
McKiver left the program in 2008 as UH's single-game, single-season and career leader in 3-pointers made.
In 2006-07, Penders guided the Cougars to their best Conference USA regular season finish and first appearance in the C-USA Tournament's championship game.
The Cougars finished with an 18-15 record, marking the first time UH posted three-straight winning seasons in 14 years.
McKiver was named to the All-Conference USA First Team while Olliver Lafayette received Second-Team recognition for the second straight season. Both players also were named to the C-USA All-Tournament Team after helping lead the Cougars to the title game against host Memphis. In addition, Lanny Smith and Ramon Dyer were Second-Team selections.
The Cougars enjoyed tremendous success in 2005-06 during Penders' second season. With a 21-10 record, UH recorded its first 20-win season since the 1992-93 campaign and advanced to the second round of the NIT.
It marked the second straight year that the Cougars competed in a postseason tournament
The Cougars opened the 2006 NIT with a 77-67 win against BYU, Penders' first career victory and his team's first home appearance in that postseason event. It also was the Cougars' first postseason win of any kind since 1988.
The Cougars recorded back-to-back wins over ranked teams at No. 25 LSU and against 13th-ranked Arizona in a nationally televised game on ESPN2. It was the first time that UH reeled off consecutive wins against ranked opponents since the 1984 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional.
Following those two wins, Houston appeared at No. 25 in the Dec. 12, 2005, Associated Press Poll, marking the first time since 1992-93 that the Cougars had been ranked.
The Cougars led the nation in steals with a 12.4 average and finished second nationally in turnover margin at +7.5 per game in 2005-06.
During his first season at Houston, Penders guided the Cougars to the nation's fourth-best turnaround with an 18-14 overall record in 2004-05. On Jan. 5, 2005, the Cougars captivated a national television audience when ESPN aired the final minutes of their 70-66 upset of No. 16 and eventual NCAA Final Four participant Louisville. One month later, ESPN televised the Cougars' 66-53 victory against Memphis, a victory that handed UH its 1,000th win in school history.
By the end of the season, the Cougars led the nation in turnover margin.
Besides leading the Cougars to their success on the court, Penders has embraced Houston's storied tradition. As a high school coach, he met Houston's legendary coach Guy V. Lewis when he took his high school team to watch the Cougars play Long Island in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 4, 1971.
As the years passed, he watched Lewis turn the Cougars into a perennial national power and patterned his teams' style of play after the style the Cougars played under Lewis. Following Houston's 1,000th victory, Penders presented the game ball to Lewis.
In his second year, George Washington finished second in the A-10 standings, and the Colonials set a school record for points scored in a season. His third team at GW advanced to the A-10 Tournament semifinals before losing to eventual champion Temple.
While averaging 20.8 wins per season at Texas, his Longhorn teams scored nearly 90 points per game and forced more than 19 turnovers per contest. Penders ended his tenure at Texas with a 208-110 record.
The feat is made more remarkable when considering he took a program that had not won 20 games in nine seasons and averaged just 4,028 fans in a 16,231-seat arena the year before he arrived.
Penders immediately put his brand on the program. He called his team the "Runnin' Horns" and spoke to every alumni and booster group in the state. His first team finished second in the Southwest Conference and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Longhorns also set 22 school and SWC records while more than doubling the attendance average to 10,011 per game, the largest increase in NCAA Division I.
In 1990, Texas surprised most college basketball fans across the nation by advancing to the Elite Eight as the No. 10 seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional and fell three points shy of advancing to the Final Four, losing to the fourth-seeded and SWC rival, Arkansas.
The 1990-91 season saw Texas finish second in the SWC, advance to the second round of the NCAA and finish 23rd in the AP rankings. Penders led the Longhorns to SWC championships in 1992, 1994 and 1995. The Runnin' Horns also reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1997.
He took over Rhode Island's program on Oct. 4, 1986. Despite having only two weeks before preseason practice began, he led the Rams to a 20-10 record and a berth into the NIT during his first season. That feat earned him Atlantic 10 Co-Coach of the Year.
In the process, 51 of his 53 players earned degrees (the other two transferred and eventually graduated). In 1981, Penders was named the New York Metropolitan Area Coach of the Year after leading Fordham to a 19-9 record.
Before his stint at Fordham, Penders coached at Columbia for four seasons. The Lions were 5-20 the year before his arrival, and his first recruiting class couldn't play for a year because the Ivy League did not allow freshmen to play.
In his first year as a head coach, Penders took a Bullard Havens Tech team that had only one player over six feet tall and a record of 4-14 the year before and guided the team to a 14-6 record. The next year, he inherited a 7-13 team at Bridgeport and led the team to a 23-2 record and a No. 2 ranking in the state. The following year, he was named the New York Daily News Coach of the Year after leading Bridgeport to a 20-1 mark and No. 1 ranking.
In baseball, Penders started for three years as a pitcher, shortstop and center fielder. He also was the Student Council President as a senior after serving as Vice President during his junior year and was president of his sophomore class in 1960-61.
Penders went on to the University of Connecticut, where he starred as a center fielder for the baseball team and a point guard for the basketball team. He served as team captain for both teams as a senior and quarterbacked the Husky basketball team to a combined 59-16 record during his career.
Penders is one of a select group of student-athletes who participated in both the NCAA Tournament (1965 and 1967) and the College World Series (1965). In 1965, Penders played on the baseball team with his older brother, Jim, who served as the team captain for the Huskies.
Later, he was considered for the school's All-Century team in 2001 after leading the Husky basketball team to two Yankee Conference championships. In 2001, he received the highest honor given by the Connecticut Department of Athletics, when the school presented him the Red O'Neill Award for Lifetime Achievement. The Hartford Courant also named Penders as one of the three greatest athletes in the 21st Century from the town of Stratford.
After that one season, Penders retired from baseball and began his career as a basketball coach in 1969. He also played fast-pitch softball during his early years as a coach and was a member of five ASA National Championship teams in 1969, 1970, 1972, 1976 and 1983. He was also named First-Team All-American as a center fielder in 1975 and 1976.
Penders also played for the USA Team that finished in a three-way tie for first place at the 1983 World University Games before being inducted into the Connecticut Softball Hall of Fame in 1989. He was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in October 2006.
A COACHING FAMILY
Penders also comes from quite a coaching family. His father, Jim, coached at Stratford High School in Connecticut from 1931-68, won four state championships and ran the town's recreation programs. He also coached all three of his sons, Jim, Tom and Bill, who went on to play at Bates College. Penders also has one sister, Kathy.
After serving as the team captain for Connecticut's 1965 baseball team, his older brother, Jim, became the head coach at East Catholic High School in Manchester, Conn. in 1969. Just like his father, he went on to win four state championships. He was named the national high school Coach of the Year in 1996.
Jim also coached his two sons, Jim III, and Rob, who are collegiate baseball coaches at Connecticut and St. Edwards University in Austin, respectively.
HEAD COACHING CAREER
Note: Tom Penders has never been an assistant coach
Stratford High School