UT AD Dave Hart on hiring Brian Pensky
Brian Pensky's introduction as women's soccer coach at UT
Brian Pensky told Dave Hart that he was choosing the "path of least resistance."
This was Pensky's way of telling the Tennessee athletic director thanks, but no thanks. The opening for UT's women's soccer coach, which was vacated when Angela Kelly left for Texas on Dec. 17, would have to be filled by someone else.
Pensky's heart was at Maryland, the place he'd rebuilt into a perennial title contender in the sport's toughest conference; the place he considered as his "dream job."
A few days later, Hart called Pensky back. The conversations Pensky had with Hart and senior associate athletic director Jon Gilbert — who recently came to UT from Alabama — about leaving a great situation for a new challenge flooded back into his brain and triggered a final change of heart.
"Once you do it, you kind of get over a hump," the 43-year-old Pensky said at his introductory press conference Tuesday from the middle of Regal Stadium's pitch.
"You kind of don't look back and feel great about it. That's what's happened to me. I've gotten over that hump. Here we are and I'm a pretty happy guy."
The feeling Tuesday from UT's top administrators, a group that included Hart, senior women's associate athletic director Donna Thomas and UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek, was mutual.
The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth thoughts Pensky may have had about taking the job didn't send any red flags, Hart said.
In fact, it reaffirmed to him that Pensky was the man he wanted to take over a Lady Vols program that has qualified for the NCAA tournament twice since 2008.
"I told him I thought we would have had the wrong person if he didn't feel that way," Hart said. "Brian is
one of those coaches that can and will make a difference."
At Maryland, Pensky was 67-52-20 over seven seasons, nabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2010 and advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2011. More than 65 percent of those wins came in the past three seasons after "building the program from ground up."
"He built the program to a championship level," Hart said. "An elite level."
And then, after tussling with the decision for more than week, Pensky chose to leave it behind to come to UT.
It wasn't made without proper research. Pensky said he "exhausted" UT associate athletic director Tyler Johnson and interim coach Joe Kirt, who will remain with the program as Pensky's assistant, with non-stop questions during his campus visit. Back at home and still undecided, he spent hours on UT's website.
Ultimately, his wife, Abby, served as a major source of encouragement.
"She was the one pushing this," Pensky said. "She was taken pretty quickly when we came down here. Taken by Pam Hart, taken by Dave, taken by Tyler, taken by everything that's here to offer at the University of Tennessee."
That didn't make his final task of telling the players at Maryland any easier. Pensky labeled his initial feelings as "borderline terror" and said the conversations with them were "highly emotional."
Methodically, Pensky's emotions ranged back to the other end of the spectrum.
"I wish that I could wake up every day and give myself an injection of perspective because it's so easy to lose it, so easy to get lost and caught up in your life," Pensky said. "I'm in amazement and there's not going to be a day that goes by that I'm not fortunate, feel fortunate and lucky to have all these kids in my life, to have these unbelievable facilities, to have this opportunity to be great.
"And we're going to be great."