The dean of Big 12 women's basketball coaches, Bill Fennelly built Iowa State women's basketball into one of the nation's elite programs. He has instant credibility with student-athletes, administrators and fans, establishing a solid foundation for his program based on academics, athletics and character. That foundation has grown into a model of success that has been matched by very few women's basketball programs across the country.
Fennelly is one of the nation's most respected coaches and his numbers bear witness to the success he has achieved in his career. He has accumulated over 500 career wins (600-259) and averaged 22 wins per season in his 20 years at Iowa State (434-206). His teams have made 19 NCAA Championship appearances in his 27 seasons as a head coach and he ranks among the nation's top 25 active women's basketball college coaches with a .698 winning percentage. Fennelly has guided the Cyclones to an unprecedented nine-straight NCAA appearance, one of just 10 schools to do so.
Former ISU president Gregory Geoffroy and athletics director Jamie Pollard awarded Fennelly a lifetime contract following the 2006-07 campaign, displaying their ultimate confidence in his ability to lead the Cyclones for the long term.
Winning Program Fennelly invigorated the Iowa State women's basketball program from the first day he arrived on campus. He took a program that won just 237 games in its first 20 years and guided it to 18 postseason appearances, a pair of NCAA Elite Eight berths, five trips to the NCAA Sweet 16, a pair of Big 12 Championship titles, a regular-season conference crown and 13 20-win seasons in his 20 years at the helm.
Three times the Cyclones claimed a school-record 27 wins, and seven times he has led ISU to 25 wins in a season. In just his second season on campus, Iowa State earned its first NCAA Championship berth and since that time the Cyclones have won 17 NCAA Championship games.
Iowa State shocked the women's basketball world when it knocked off top-seeded Connecticut to advance to the school's first NCAA Elite Eight in 1999. Ten years later, the 2009 Cyclones put their stamp on women's basketball history by overcoming a seven-point deficit with 1:30 left to defeat Michigan State and advance to the school's second NCAA Elite Eight. Under Fennelly, ISU made five NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances, including a streak of three straight from 1999 to 2001 and back-to-back appearances in 2009 and 2010. Iowa State was one of just five schools to reach the NCAA Sweet 16 in both of those seasons.
The Cyclones have been a consistent contender in the Big 12, the nation's best conference, since its inception in Fennelly's second season (1996-97) at ISU. The 1999-2000 ISU squad shared the school's first Big 12 regular-season crown and Iowa State has finished in the upper half of the league's final standings in 13 of its 17 seasons.
Iowa State has enjoyed much success than any other team in the history of the Big 12 Championship, winning 24 tournament contests. Iowa State captured Big 12 tournament titles in 1999 and 2000 and played in the championship game five times, most recently in 2013. The Cyclones are third in all-time Big 12 regular-season victories with 178.
Fennelly's leadership produced ISU All-Americans Stacy Frese, Angie Welle, Anne O'Neil, Lyndsey Medders, Alison Lacey, Kelsey Bolte and most recently Chelsea Poppens and Hallie Christofferson. His Cyclones have earned all-conference recognition 49 times, while 13 of his players have been selected in the WNBA professional draft. Lacey was taken as the 10th pick in the 2010 draft by Seattle, marking Iowa State's highest draft pick in school history. Lacey became the first Cyclone to win a WNBA Championship in 2010 when the Storm defeated Atlanta. In 2013, Iowa State was one of just five schools with multiple players selected in the WNBA Draft when Chelsea Poppens (2nd/18th) was picked by the Seattle Storm and Anna Prins (2nd/23rd) went to the Connecticut Sun.
Nationally Respected Fennelly is a three-time finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award (2001, 2002, 2005). His peers also voted him the WBCA District 5 Coach of the Year twice (1999, 2005) and he finished runner-up to Tennessee's Pat Summitt in the 1998 Associated Press Women's Coach of the Year balloting.
The turnaround in Ames has been noticed on a national level as Fennelly's squads spent the better part of nine seasons in The Associated Press national poll, including 34 weeks in the top 10.
International Experience Fennelly has served four stints as a member of USA Basketball, most recently capturing the gold medal as head coach at the 2011 World University Games in Shenzhen, China. Previously, Fennelly won gold as an assistant at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships in Thailand, the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Argentina and the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival in St. Louis, Mo.
Academics Fennelly made academics a top priority for his Cyclone squads, and his student-athletes have flourished in the classroom. Every student-athlete who has completed her eligibility under Fennelly has graduated from Iowa State with a degree. Former Cyclone women's basketball players are littered all over the globe with careers as doctors, lawyers, broadcasters, teachers, accountants and coaches. Many also have continued their playing careers professionally overseas and in the WNBA.
During Fennelly's tenure, Iowa State has been represented on the academic all-conference list 91 times. Five Cyclones earned academic All-America honors and an ISU player made the district academic All-America list 13 times during that span.
Family For the Fennelly family, basketball is a way of life. Fennelly insists his wife, Deb, is his all-time greatest recruit, and she has been an integral part of ISU's success, making each new Cyclone feel like a part of her own family. The couple's oldest son, Billy, has gone into the family business and joined the Iowa State staff as the Director of Player Development in July 2010 before moving into an assistant role in 2012. Billy is married to former Cyclone great and all-time ISU assist leader Lyndsey Medders. Steven, the youngest son of Bill and Deb, graduated from ISU in 2011 and served as a graduate assistant for the Cyclones (2011-13) before being named an assistant at Cal State-Fullerton in 2013.
Fan Support Fennelly took a personal approach to expanding the Iowa State fan base into one of most envied crowds in all of women's basketball. The Cyclones' yearly attendance average has grown from 733 fans per game the season before Fennelly arrived at ISU to nearly 10,000 a contest last season, ranking second nationally behind just Tennessee. ISU's attendance has ranked among the top 11 schools nationally in each of the last 15 seasons, peaking at second in 2013 and 2014. The Cyclones enjoyed their first-ever sellout crowd in a 2004 WNIT/NIT doubleheader against Saint Joseph's.
Coaching Tree Fennelly has mentored a number of former assistant coaches and players who have gone on to successful head coaching careers across the country. Brenda Frese spent four seasons on Fennelly's ISU staff before taking over the reins of her own program. She led Maryland to the 2006 national championship. After three seasons on Fennelly's coaching staff, Robin Pingeton was named head coach at Illinois State before being named the head coach at Missouri prior to the 2010-11 campaign. At Illinois State, she guided the Redbirds to a pair of Missouri Valley Conference tournament titles and earned MVC Coach of the Year honors.
Former Fennelly assistant Katie Abrahamson-Henderson was named the head coach at the University at Albany for the 2010-11 campaign and has led the Great Danes to three NCAA Tournaments. She spent five seasons as head coach at Missouri State, where she led the Lady Bears to two regular-season Missouri Valley Conference championships, three NCAA appearances and a WNIT crown. Chris Kielsmeier started his coaching career as a student manager for Fennelly. Now the head coach at Wayne State, Kielsmeier also spent eight seasons as head coach at Howard Payne University, where he led the Lady Jackets to a 33-0 record and the 2008 NCAA Division III national championship. Kelly Kebe Kennedy, an assistant in Ames from 1999-2002, spent four years as the head coach at the University of Akron.
Former Cyclone and all-Big 12 performer Janel Grimm Burgess also entered the coaching ranks, taking over the Grand Valley State program in Allendale, Mich. In her third season Burgess directed the Lakers to a 20-8 mark and an NCAA Division II Championship berth. Brittany Lange, who played for and was a student assistant for Fennelly at Iowa State (2006-10), was named head coach at Omaha in 2014. Another All-Big 12 performer Heather Ezell joined the staff at Southeast Missouri in 2011.
Background A native of Davenport, Iowa, Fennelly acquired an extensive background in coaching before becoming Iowa State's sixth head coach on July 10, 1995. Fennelly went 166-53 in seven years as head coach at the University of Toledo. He still is the Mid-American Conference's winningest coach with a .758 win percentage. He compiled six 20-win seasons and six postseason tournament berths at Toledo. Fennelly coached the Rockets to second-, third- and fifth-place finishes in the WNIT and three NCAA Championship appearances. He is a member of Toledo's Varsity "T" Hall of Fame.
Fennelly spent 12 years as an assistant coach, including stops at William Penn University (Oskaloosa, Iowa), Fresno State and Notre Dame. He graduated from William Penn with a bachelor's degree in business administration and economics in 1979.