Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Face of ISU Athletics

Quick. Who is the best basketball coach in Iowa State University history? How many of you said Johnny Orr? Larry Eustachy maybe? I bet there were a few Tim Floyd answers out there too. The answer is one of the most under-rated, under-appreciated people in this state’s sports history—Cyclone Women’s Coach Bill Fennelly.

It’s true, Johnny Orr brought “Hilton Magic” to Ames from 1981 through 1994, elevating the Cyclone men’s basketball program from irrelevant to national relevance. He won 218 games and took ISU to 6 NCAA Tournament appearances. His winning percentage at Iowa State was .522.

Tim Floyd had a magnificent run of his own from 1995 through 1998, compiling a 81-49 record (.623) and advancing to 3 NCAA Tournaments before bolting for the NBA's Chicago Bulls.

Larry Eustachy won two Big 12 Conference championships, advanced to 2 NCAA Tournaments, and won 101 games during his tenure from 1999-2003. He guided the Cyclones to the Elite 8 and won 63 percent of his games while at Iowa State before his infamous termination.

And then there’s ISU Women’s Coach Bill Fennelly. Is he the most under-appreciated coach in this state’s history? That could be debated. Certainly it’s not because he’s disliked. He’s one of the most likeable public figures in Iowa. But he’s the coach of a women’s basketball team, a team that even though they’ve been the most successful program (Men’s and Women’s) in this state over the past 15 years, they don’t get the publicity they deserve because…it’s women’s basketball, and traditionally, women’s basketball doesn’t sell. Traditionally.

But if Fennelly keeps his women’s program going the way it is, and the Cyclones and Hawkeyes men’s programs continue at their wretched pace, tradition may go out the window--quickly. Fennelly is about to eclipse the 500-win plateau. He is 324-145 at Iowa State in his 14 seasons. Prior to his arrival, the ISU women’s program had only won 237 games in its history! At ISU, Fennelly has racked up 9 20-win seasons, 2 Big 12 Championships, 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, 4 trips to the Sweet 16, and 2 trips to the Elite 8. He is a 3-time finalist for the Naismith Coach of The Year Award. Perhaps most impressively, the Iowa State women have consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally in attendance. The year before Fennelly arrived, ISU averaged 733 people per game. Now, they average over 9,000 per game and ranked third last year in attendance finishing behind Tennessee and UConn—two women’s basketball powerhouses.

It’s time to appreciate Bill Fennelly for what he is—the best basketball coach in Iowa State University history, maybe in Iowa collegiate history period, and certainly—the current face of ISU. Now, can I trade in the rest of my men's tickets for women's please?

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