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Jim Penders will remain UConn baseball coach; extension closure

Jim Penders will remain a Husky after all, and the school is finalizing a contract extension for the 19-year-old UConn baseball coach. “We are working on something that will reward him and his staff for their success and retention. UConn athletic director Dave Benedict told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I think where we’ve settled is very reasonable for UConn and very fair for Coach Penders. And I think it feels very good that we’re doing everything we can. Benedict and Penders issued a joint statement on Tuesday afternoon reaffirming Penders’ commitment to remain at Storrs. Late last week, a Michigan Rivals.com site reported that Penders was interested in Michigan for his currently vacant baseball head coaching job. “In the summer of 2003, my alma mater took a chance on an unproven thirty-one-year-old man to be the temporary guardian of our legendary program,” Penders said in the statement. “At that time, I made a commitment to bring the Huskies back to Omaha. There is still a lot of work to do and today, thanks to the unwavering support of the UConn nation and the performance of the 2022 Huskies, I am even more optimistic, humbled and excited to continue our quest to not just get to the Colleges World Series, but to win it all. I am grateful that President Maric, President Toscano, David Benedict and so many others have placed their trust in our staff and in me. I’m thrilled that the longest-serving DI baseball coaching staff in the nation continues to bleed at Storrs. I’m not thirty-one anymore, but I still owe UConn, and I renew my promise today. A great coach once said, “Those who stay will be champions. We believe that. Initially, last week’s report said Penders interviewed Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, who served as an AD at UConn from 2012 to 2016. A source familiar with the matter told Hearst Connecticut Media that the report n was “not true”. The site later reported instead that Penders had a chat with Manuel, but no interview. Penders led the Huskies to a season-record 50-game winning streak. UConn won its second straight Big East Tournament title, beat Maryland to win the College Park Regionals and qualified for a super regional for only the second time in school history and the first time since 2011. After winning their first super regional game, the Huskies dropped the next two games of the best-of-three series with Stanford to one game less than their first trip to the College World Series since 1979. Penders, who is the coach UConn’s all-time winningest baseball player, played 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, are both UConn graduates and played for the College Huskies in 1965. The World Series team. “You never want to take advantage of his loyalty to the university,” Benedict noted. “Sometimes squeaky wheels get oiled, but Jim just isn’t like that. It feels good to reward someone like him who is so committed and loyal to this program, and has achieved great success. Penders signed a five-year contract extension in June 2018 which expires May 31, 2023. He is due to be paid $280,000 this year, a small increase from his salary last year and quite low compared to what that schools like Michigan and other Power Five programs can offer. “We wanted to be in a situation where he knew we wanted to keep him, and we would do everything we could to try to keep him and his staff back,” Benedict said. “But its open market value is probably 2 or 3 (times) what UConn can afford to pay. Indeed, while some Power Five schools pay their baseball coaches $1 million or more, Penders won’t receive that kind of salary at UConn. “It’s just not who we are. We are not a Power Five,” said Benedict, who added that not only do these programs get much larger media rights than non-P5 schools, but many also attract thousands of fans every game. Benedict said he was impressed with Penders shortly after taking over as DA in 2016 and watching UConn win the competitive American Athletic Conference tournament. “It was obvious that Coach Penders had built a really strong program,” noted Benedict. “The American was a very competitive league, and competing against those schools and succeeding as a Northeastern program was very impressive to me. Add to that the fact that UConn’s baseball facilities were barely better than an average high school field. Under Benedict, the school has built the sparkling new Elliott Ballpark, home of UConn for the past two seasons, as well as several other new athletic facilities around campus. “Jim never asks for anything, he never makes excuses for anything,” Benedict said. “He just continues to try to build and advance his program. If you wait for Jim to ask for something, you’re going to wait a long time, because that’s just not his style. He is driven by a desire to bring our baseball program back to the College World Series. Of course, people like to be compensated fairly, so that’s what we try to do. I enjoyed every moment of working with Coach and did everything I could to support him and his team. david.borges@hearstmediact.com

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