• October 16, 2021

Phoenix Mercury fires Corey Gaines, hires Russ Pennell as interim head coach

Mercury head coach Corey Gaines
Former Mercury head coach Corey Gaines. Photo courtesy Phoenix Mercury (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

From the team:

The Phoenix Mercury today relieved Corey Gaines of his duties as head coach and general manager, and named former University of Arizona and Grand Canyon University Men’s Basketball Head Coach Russ Pennell as the team’s interim head coach. Mercury President and Chief Operating Officer Amber Cox, who has handled the team’s salary cap management and player/agent negotiations the last two seasons, will assume the role of interim general manager.

“First and foremost, we thank Corey for his years of dedication to this franchise, its players and its fans,” said Cox. “Corey helped bring two championships to our organization and for that we will be forever grateful. Unfortunately, our team’s performance this season has not lived up to our expectations, and at this time, a change was necessary. Russ Pennell is a proven leader and winner, whose resume speaks to his ability to build a winning culture founded in discipline and fundamentals.”

Pennell, 52, brings nearly 30 years of coaching experience to his new role with the Mercury, including the last 15 years in the state of Arizona at Arizona State University (assistant, 1998-2004), the University of Arizona (head coach, 2008-09) and most recently at Phoenix’s Grand Canyon University (head coach, 2009-13). Pennell’s four-season tenure at GCU saw him compile a 72-44 (.621) overall record, including an outstanding 42-16 (.724) mark over the last two campaigns. Pennell’s rebuilt program in 2010-11 earned the Antelopes’ their first winning record since 2006-07, and his new culture produced a 19-8 (.704) mark in 2011-12, and a 23-8 (.742) record in 2012-13. The school made two-straight appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament, and lost just two home games in his final two seasons.

Pennell was hired by GCU after an extremely successful one-year run as the interim head coach at the University of Arizona in 2008 following the retirement of legendary Wildcat coach Lute Olsen. In that single season in Tucson, Pennell’s team went 21-14 (.600), earned an NCAA Tournament appearance, and advanced to the Sweet 16. Prior to joining the Wildcats, from 1998-2004, Pennell was an assistant coach under Rob Evans at Arizona State University, during which time the Sun Devils earned one NCAA Tournament berth (2003) and made three NIT appearances. He was a member of Evans’ staff at the University of Mississippi for six seasons (1992-98) after beginning his coaching career at Oklahoma State University (1990-92) under Hall of Fame coach Eddie Sutton.

Born in Monett, Mo., Pennell played collegiately at Arkansas under Sutton (1979-80) before transferring to Central Arkansas (1982-84), where he was a two-year starter at point guard, and as a senior averaged 8.2 assists as a teammate of former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen.

Pennell earned a Bachelor’s degree in physical education from Pittsburg State in 1989 and his Master’s in 1990. He and his wife, Julie, were college sweethearts who married in 1986. The couple has two daughters: Morgan, a senior basketball player at Mountain View High School, and eighth-grader Emily.

Gaines originally joined the Mercury organization in 2006 as an assistant coach under mentor Paul Westhead, and was on the staff of Phoenix’s 2007 WNBA Championship squad. He succeeded Westhead as the seventh head coach in franchise history in 2008, and subsequently led the team to its second title in 2009. His nearly six-year tenure is longest among head coaches in team history, and his 90 regular season wins are a franchise record, as are his 11 career playoff victories.

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