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Former Arizona interim head coach Russ Pennell out at Grand Canyon University

Russ Pennell hugs Arizona point guard Nic Wise after the Wildcats defeated Cleveland State to advance to the 2009 Sweet 16. Photo by David Wallace/The Arizona Republic

I was saddened to see the news Friday night that Russ Pennell is out as Grand Canyon’s coach after four years — and a 72-44 record — at the school he helped bring to Division I status starting next season.

Grand Canyon will play in the WAC in 2013-14.

Pennell helped hold the Arizona Wildcats ship together in the 2008-09 season after the preseason retirement of Lute Olson. Assistant coach Mike Dunlap, now the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, certainly deserves credit as the mad scientist behind some of Arizona’s schemes that season, but when he didn’t want to be head coach under those circumstances, Pennell became the popular and steadying face of the program.

He directed the Cats to the Sweet 16 (where powerful Louisville wiped out the Cats) and Pennell completely earned a soft stop in the hearts of Arizona fans. There is a hearty ovation waiting for him for whenever he wants to come back and take in a game at McKale Center.

Sounds like the identity of his probably successor at Grand Canyon is the main reason why Pennell and the school reached a “mutual decision” to part ways. Here is the story from the Arizona Republic, our Gannett partner:

By Dan Bickley
The Arizona Republic

Former Suns player and assistant coach Dan Majerle will be named coach of the Grand Canyon men’s basketball team Monday, according to a source.

Majerle, who declined comment Friday, will replace Russ Pennell, who resigned Friday after Grand Canyon’s 85-59 loss to Seattle Pacific in the first round of the NCAA Division II West Regional in Bellingham, Wash.

The Associated Press reported that Majerle told KTVK-TV (Channel 3) that he is taking the job.

The Antelopes will move to Division I next season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.

Grand Canyon announced that a news conference will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at the GCU Arena to introduce the Antelopes’ new coach, who will be introduced by school President Brian Mueller, Athletic Director Keith Baker and Special Assistant to the President Jerry Colangelo.

“I am proud of the way that Coach Pennell has represented Grand Canyon University,” Mueller said in a statement. “In light of our upcoming move to NCAA Division I status, we have come to a mutual decision that it would be in the best interests of the university and Coach Pennell if we took different paths at this time.”

Said Pennell in the statement: “I leave with great respect for Grand Canyon University and thank Brian Mueller for giving me the opportunity to lead the men’s basketball program over the past four seasons. I look forward to the next opportunity that lies ahead.”

Pennell, who took the Antelopes to the NCAA Division II Tournament the past two seasons, finished with a 72-44 record in his four years with the program.

“Russ did a good job in moving us forward as a Division II program,” said Baker, who could not comment on Majerle. “In the reclassification as a higher profile program, we just felt it was best to go this direction.

“In conversations with Russ, the first three to four years after being reclassified, it can be a career killer for a coach. Russ still has a good career in front of him.”

Grand Canyon won’t be eligible for the NCAA Tournament the first four years.

Former Suns owner Colangelo, who is assisting with the transition, said Friday that he would neither confirm nor deny whether Majerle will be named Grand Canyon’s coach.

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