Jim Penders will remain as UConn baseball coach; 5-year contract being finalized: ‘We’re in a good place’

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UConn baseball coach Jim Penders will stay on as coach of the Huskies. UConn and Penders are working on a contract extension.

UConn baseball coach Jim Penders will stay on as coach of the Huskies. UConn and Penders are working on a contract extension.

UConn Athletics / Contributed Photo

Jim Penders will remain a Husky after all, and the school is in the process of finalizing a new contract for the 19th-year UConn baseball coach. The length of the contract will be five years.

“We’re working on something that’s going to reward he and his staff for their success and retention,” UConn athletic director Dave Benedict told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I think the place we settled is very reasonable for UConn and very fair to Coach Penders. And I think he feels very good that we’re doing everything we can.”

Benedict and Penders released a joint statement on Tuesday afternoon re-affirming Penders’ commitment to remaining in Storrs. Late last week, a Michigan Rivals.com site reported that Penders had interest from Michigan for its currently vacated baseball head coaching job.

“In the summer of 2003, my alma mater took a chance on an unproven thirty-one-year-old to be the temporary caretaker of our storied program,” Penders said in the statement. “At that time, I pledged to get the Huskies back to Omaha. There is still much work to be done and today, thanks to the steadfast support of UConn Nation, and because of the performance of the 2022 Huskies, I'm even more optimistic, humbled, and excited to continue our quest to not just get to the College World Series, but to win it all. I am grateful that President Maric, Chairman Toscano, David Benedict and so many others have placed their trust in our staff and in me. I am thrilled the longest-tenured DI baseball coaching staff in the country will keep bleeding blue in Storrs. I’m not thirty-one anymore, but I still owe UConn, and I renew my pledge today. A great coach once said, ‘Those who stay will be champions.’ We believe that.”

Initially, last week’s report noted that Penders had interviewed with Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who had been A.D. at UConn from 2012-2016. A source close to the situation told Hearst Connecticut Media that the report was “not true.” Later, the site instead reported that Penders had had a conversation with Manuel, but no interview.

Penders led the Huskies to a program-record 50 wins this season. UConn won its second straight Big East tournament title, beat Maryland to win the College Park Regionals and qualified for a super regional for just the second time in school history and first time since 2011. After winning their first super regional game ever, the Huskies dropped the next two games of the best-of-three series with Stanford to fall one game short of their first trip to the College World Series since 1979.

Penders, who is UConn’s all-time winningest baseball coach, starred at East Catholic High, then as a catcher at UConn. He graduated from UConn in 1994 and returned to the program as a graduate assistant three years later, eventually taking over as head coach in 2004. His father, Jim, and uncle, Tom, both graduated from UConn and played on the Huskies’ 1965 College World Series team.

“You never want to take advantage of his loyalty to the university,” Benedict noted. “Sometimes, the squeaky wheels do get oiled, but Jim’s just not that way. You feel great to reward someone like him that is as committed and loyal to this program, and has achieved a great deal of success.”

Penders signed a five-year contract extension in June 2018 that expires on May 31, 2023. He is due to be paid $280,000 this year, a small bump from his pay last year and fairly low compared to what schools like Michigan and other Power Five programs can offer.

“We wanted to be in a situation where he knew that we wanted to keep him, and we’d do everything we could do to try to retain he and his staff,” Benedict said. “But his value on the open market is probably 2 or 3 (times) what UConn can afford to pay.”

Indeed, while some Power Five schools are paying their baseball coaches $1 million or more, Penders won’t be getting that kind of payday at UConn.

“It’s just not who we are. We’re not a Power Five,” said Benedict, who added that not only do those programs get media rights money far greater than non-P5 schools, but many also draw thousands of fans to each game.

Benedict said he was impressed by Penders shortly after taking over as A.D. in 2016 and watching UConn win the competitive American Athletic Conference tournament.

“It was obvious that Coach Penders had built a really solid program,” Benedict noted. “The American was a very competitive league, and to compete with those schools and to be successful as a northeastern program was very impressive to me.”

Couple that with the fact that UConn’s baseball facilities were barely better than an average high school field. Under Benedict, the school built the sparkling new Elliott Ballpark, UConn’s home field for the past two seasons, as well as several other new athletics facilities around campus.

“Jim never asks for anything, he never makes any excuses for anything,” Benedict said. “He just goes about continuing to try to build and advance his program. If you’re waiting for Jim to ask for something, you’re going to be waiting a long time, because that’s just not his style. He’s driven by wanting to get our baseball program back to the College World Series. Of course people like to be compensated fairly, so that’s what we’re trying to do. I’ve enjoyed every moment of working with Coach and doing anything I can to support he and his staff.”