COLUMBIA — Bill Fennelly and Robin Pingeton share a bond that remains unbroken, not even by Iowa State football.
"I've missed one Iowa State home football game in 16 years, and that was to go to her wedding," Fennelly said. "She’s a big part of my life. She’s tremendous. She earned it."
No. 23 Iowa State Cyclones (21-8, 9-6 Big 12)
at Missouri Tigers (12-17, 4-11 Big 12)
WHEN: 4 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
Fennelly, a native of Davenport, Iowa, has coached the women's basketball team at Iowa State for nearly 16 seasons. He has been there longer than the Big 12 Conference, which formed in 1996, has existed.
He took a program that for 20 years had averaged only 13 wins a season and brought it to eight NCAA Tournament appearances and two Big 12 championships. The average attendance for a game was 733 before Fennelly took over. Now, his team draws more than 9,000 every time it plays in Ames, Iowa.
"When I took the job, I didn't know what would happen," Fennelly said. "My brother owned a bar in Davenport. I figured, well, if this thing blows up, I can tap bar for him. But luckily, we've made it work for a few years."
Fennelly has always kept an eye on the Iowa's women's basketball programs. It wasn't long before he noticed the success at St. Ambrose in his hometown, which was coached by Pingeton, then Robin Becker. She led St. Ambrose to a 194-76 record in eight seasons.
Jamie Bermel first brought Fennelly and Pingeton together. Bermel had become close friends with Pingeton early in their coaching careers. Later, when Bermel took a position as golfing coach at Iowa State, he recommended Pingeton for an opening on the Cyclones women's basketball coaching staff.
"I think Jamie called Bill (Fennelly) and said, 'Hey, I think Robin would be a great addition to your staff. I think you would like her energy, her charisma, her work ethic,'" Pingeton said. "And that's kind of how it all started."
Pingeton quickly became a top recruiter for Iowa State when she arrived as an assistant in 2000. Fennelly remembers Pingeton leading the charge in recruiting Lyndsey Medders, who set the Cyclones career assists record at 719 before the WNBA's Indiana Fever drafted her.
"Robin not only recruited a great point guard for Iowa State, she recruited a family member for me. So I'll always owe her for that," said Fennelly, whose oldest son Billy Fennelly married Medders.
Bill Fennelly has taken his philosophy of building a family atmosphere for his team to another level. Billy Fennelly became the director of player development for the Cyclones last year. Steven Fennelly, the coach's youngest son, attends Iowa State and helps the women's team as a student manager.
"He walks his talk," Pingeton said. "He's what you see is what you get kind of guy. I think that's what everybody admires, respects about him."
Pingeton entered this family atmosphere when she joined the Iowa State coaching staff. Three years later, she took the philosophy to Illinois State when she became head coach there.
"Everyone worries so much about recruiting, but I told her the number one thing you have to do is hire a loyal, hard-working staff," Fennelly said.
Pingeton selected a coaching staff that remained at Illinois State with her for seven seasons before joining her at Missouri last year when she became the Tigers' head coach.
Pingeton listed Fennelly as a reference when she was being considered for the Missouri job.
"You're asking me to help you hire someone that'll kick my butt down the road," Fennelly said he told MU Athletics Director Mike Alden.
But Fennelly was ecstatic when he heard Pingeton would join the Big 12 as Missouri's head coach. His enthusiasm wavers only when his team faces Pingeton's.
"I always hate playing against former assistants, but that’s part of the job now," Fennelly said. "You want to beat each other’s brains in for 40 minutes, but other than that, you care about each other, you appreciate each other.
"Hopefully, she'll always have a piece of Iowa State in her. There's always going to be a part of Coach P in Ames and with our program. We'll always stay in touch."