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Fennelly, Bill

Published onJul 30, 2021
Fennelly, Bill

(May 14, 1957 –)

Quick Facts

Bill Fennelly has been the head women’s basketball coach since 1995, including 20 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 14 20-win seasons in his 24 years at the helm.

Source: Iowa State Athletics,

Fennelly is one of the most successful coaches in any sport in the history of Iowa State University. Since becoming head women’s basketball coach at ISU in May of 1995, Fennelly has led his Cyclone program to the postseason 17 times in his 19 seasons in Ames as of this writing in 2015. The run of success includes eight straight NCAA Tournament berths heading into the 2014-2015 season. At the completion of the 2013-2014 campaign, Fennelly’s record at Iowa State stood at 416-193 (.683) and 582-246 (.594) overall, including his seven years as head coach at Toledo (1988-1995) before coming to Ames.

Fennelly, a native of the Quad Cities, took over an Iowa State program that had posted a 7-49 Big Eight Conference record in the four seasons before his arrival. The Iowa State community embraced the Cyclone women’s basketball program almost overnight. Iowa State has ranked among the top 10 schools nationally women’s basketball attendance for 15 straight seasons. The Cyclones averaged 9,916 fans per game in 2013-2014, ranking it second nationally in women’s college basketball attendance for the second straight season.

Fennelly’s teams have made 18 NCAA Championship appearances in his 26 seasons as a head coach (at both Toledo and Iowa State) and he ranks among the nation’s top 25 active women’s basketball college coaches in overall winning percentage. At Iowa State, he took a program that won just 237 games in its first 20 years and has guided it to 20 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 14 20-win seasons in his 24 years at the helm.

Three times the Cyclones have claimed a school-record 27 wins, including the 2009 Elite Eight squad. In just his second season on campus (1996-97), 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.

Fennelly's leadership produced ISU All-Americans Stacy Frese, Angie Welle, Anne O'Neil, Lyndsey Medders, Alison Lacey, Kelsey Bolte, Chelsea Poppens, Hallie Christofferson and most recently Bridget Carleton and Ashley Joens. His Cyclones have earned all-conference recognition over 50 times, while 14 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.

Most recently, Carleton left Iowa State as one of the most decorated player in school history in men’s or women’s basketball. She was honored as an All-American by every outlet and was the first Cyclone to be named Big 12 Player of the Year. As capstone to her legendary Cyclone career, she became the first Cyclone to earn a position award by the WBCA and be named a WBCA All-American. Carleton was named the Cheryl Miller award winner, honoring the nation’s top small forward and was included in the 2019 Naismith Starting Five.

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 10 seasons in The Associated Press (AP) national poll, including 34 weeks in the top 10.

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.

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 scattered 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 136 times. Five Cyclones earned academic All-America honors and an ISU player made the district academic All-America list 13 times during that span.

 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.

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 Lyndsey Medders, who ranks second all-time in assists at ISU. 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. He began working with the Idaho Vandals as an assistant coach in the summer of 2016 and is currently on staff at Northern Iowa.

Selected Sources

Iowa State Athletics:

“Double Teaming Disease” by Mary Greeley Medical Center:

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