Who is Kahil Fennell, the newest assistant coach at BYU?

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There was a time, when he was young, when Kahil Fennell didn’t like BYU.


Growing up in Hawaii, his family had UH football tickets, hence, he didn’t like the Cougars.

“My earliest memories are of Ty Detmer and (BYU) kicking back,” Fennell said Friday, when introduced to the media after being recruited as the newest assistant basketball coach Mark Pope.

“I started out as not a BYU fan.”

Decades later, Fennell will play a key role in the Cougars ’leap from the West Coast Conference to the Big 12 in the 2023-24 season.

And, yes, he is now a BYU fan.

“Obviously, a lot of respect for the athletic program here and the community itself. It’s very special, very unique. It’s different,” he said.

“The standards held here, the principles are not just religion but community and the ability and desire to build people around you, unlike any other place. That makes this place so unique and special. That always speaks to me.”

As a black man who was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Fennell found himself drawn to the school’s mission. “Me and my whole family,” he said, adding that his family’s standards were in line with school standards.

“We’re all pulling in the same direction,” he said. “That’s great for me, that’s great for my family. It’s a principle we live by. It’s a big part of me being fascinated with the project.

Fennell praised the school’s “excellent” facilities – “right on top with anyone in the country.”

And he enjoys working with the Pope, and his assistants Cody Fueger and Nick Robinson. He also loves the environment.

“It’s great every day to come to work. It’s a cool office that doesn’t appear on the court, ”he said.“ It’s nice to get out on the terrace and see the mountains, which I’m not used to.

“You feel able to complete the task and enjoy being here every day.”

After coming from the Power 5 conference program, Louisville, Fennell believes that BYU is in a good position to compete in the Big 12.

“This is a big reason why I was excited about this project in the beginning,” he said. “The way Pope coaches and Nick and Cody have been recruited and the way he has been tenacious about it – the passion, the energy to recruit at a high level and dive into a recruitment battle with anyone and everyone … to fight.

“Get talent, get local talent, get international talent, they pay a lot of attention. We’re going to be a really good team, not just this year, but going forward … We’re going to be very ready to win games, whether in the Big 12 or beyond “I’m excited about it.”

‘Tired and full’

When assistant Chris Burgess left last month to take a similar job in Utah, Pope began what he called a “tired and exhaustive process” to find a replacement for Burgess.

“This is the last chance we have of a big change in our staff during this transition,” Pope said. “We all understand this extra gravity for our staff. This has to be the right people, and Kahil is really the right people … We have the opportunity to be better and I’m sure it’s done.

“This is an important decision for us. It’s really important for the next few years of our program, and he’s a guy.

Many candidates are considered for the job.

“It could be three figures, about the number of names we do,” the Pope said.

But Fennell is up at the top of the list of candidates.

“I had sold it away before he got here,” Pope said. “We spend a lot of time together.”

Pope and Fennell seem to be kinship spirits in many ways, even if they didn’t know it before the recruitment process began.

When Pope left medical school to take a low-level assistant coach job in Georgia to return to college basketball, Fennell sold medical equipment for years before realizing that coaching was his true calling.

Fennell served as an assistant coach at Alameda High in California before moving to the UT-Permian Basin Division II and then taking on an assistant coach at Portland State.

“I know,” Pope said of Fennell’s return to the sport. Fennell “has the courage to do it. Since then, what he has done since is absolutely incredible.

What warned Fennell about his early conversations with the Pope?

“The Pope’s coach is a force of nature,” Fennell said. “You’re talking to him, but it feels more than that, bouncing ideas on each other. It’s one of the more unique early relationships I’ve had in this business.

“I really appreciate his basketball thoughts, but more so because of his great energy and competitive nature. That really suits me. That’s where we really see eye to eye … We’re incredibly led. There’s no other option except to win. That’s it for me. I’m here to win. “

Lessons in Louisville

For the past four years, Fennell has served on the staff at the Louisville Atlantic Coast Power Conference. He spent his first three years as director of basketball operations and last year as an assistant.

Those years certainly made her – and this was a learning experience. Louisville enjoyed some good seasons but last year was not one of them.

Head coach Chris Mack served a six -game suspension to start the year after being the victim of an extortion attempt by a former assistant, and there was an ongoing NCAA investigation in Louisville related to an FBI investigation into bribery in college basketball.

Mack was fired last January.

Previously, social justice issues became a major focus during the summer of 2020, Fennell “participated and organized several parades with our team,” he said, to pay attention to Breonna Taylor’s controversial death in Louisville, “which was very important to the players, he said. the voice and the platform.

As for his time in Louisville, “there are definitely ups and downs,” Fennell said. “Obviously, the first three years of strong and challenging COVID and some social justice matters were also challenging, it was in Louisville and the heart of the Breonna Taylor situation.

“Then last season was disappointing for us on the floor with a lot of disruption to the program and the coaching staff and the federal investigation. I learned quite a bit. So much can be learned from this experience. For me, it continues to put players first; put first wins. … and our student-athletes make the most of their time on campus … that’s going to be the goal.I don’t want that to get lost in the distractions of the floor.If there’s one thing, I’d say that I’ve taken from it.

Fennell said he and his family – his wife Sarah, and two sons, Ezra and Koa – feel comfortable at BYU.

“It’s a unique situation and a unique place, but my family couldn’t have felt more supported when we were involved in this process,” he said.

“You’ve touched us in so many ways. It’s an environment and a community that welcomes us with open arms, and that’s all I can ask for.

‘Compete for champion’

Fennell said he was looking forward to working with Pope, Fueger and Robinson, saying that he was “a person who believes very much in these guys. I am very confident in this community and this athletic program. It was a huge thrill for me.

“Hopefully we can compete for the championship in the future. That’s what this place is about. Obviously, it’s unique in its standards and what is expected of students-athletes and staff,” he said. “I think that makes it more special. If you can do those things and combine them, with the goal of competing for the championship, then it’s a unique place and I love being a part of it.

One of Fennell’s priorities, of course, will be recruiting. He brings his recruiting experience “at the ACC level and what it looks like night in and night out,” Fennell said. “This is a war, especially now with the NIL and everything related to it … I will learn from these people. This is an incredible staff.”

Fennell added: “I’m going to work really, really hard (recruiting). I’m going to uncover every rock near and far – here in Utah, locally, there are some really good players here – obviously, overseas they’ve been very successful in this program. I think. will do whatever it can to continue the recruitment success it has built.

The rental process

During a lengthy recruitment process, typical for BYU, Pope said he was nervous because Fennell was an assistant coaching candidate for “at least two excellent high and middle degree majors that are chasing him as well.”

Pope spoke with coaches that Fennell worked with in Louisville and Portland State.

“He’s going to be the first person in office and the last to leave every day,” Mack told the Pope.

Another trait puts Fennell at the top of the Pope’s list.

“This is what we generally hear, it has to do with the players and the recruitment skills,” he said. “When you look at his life story, he has a spectacular life story. He’s been in every kind of environment, every kind of situation you can imagine.

“The diversity of his experience is a big issue for us. He has a lot of experience around the country, like coach Fueger and coach Robinson. The other thing I hear is that he’s on the court all day, working with guys.

Fennell said Burgess was a friend and he knew there was an opening at BYU.

“I thought there might be an opportunity here,” Fennell said.

Fennell also spoke with former Portland State boss Barret Peery, a Payson native who is now an assistant coach at Texas Tech of the Big 12, to learn more about BYU.

“He knows the area and he’s a big fan of this program,” Fennell said of Peery.

One night, Pope and his wife, Lee Anne, had dinner with Fennell and his wife.

“I was like,‘ Oh, Sarah is better than she is, ’” Pope said. “It’s kind of a lynchpin. His family is really special. He brings a lot.”

The pope called Fennell a “world -class communicator” and a man who “has a real gift for building relationships … In every place, he has been promoted to the program rapidly.”

“He’s really honest and he has a lot of depth. He did this job for the right reasons,” Pope said. “He was clearly not chasing money because of the decisions he made in his life. He was looking for a relationship with these people and he was looking for an opportunity to be a part of something special.

When he was young, Fennell may not have respected BYU, but he does now.

“One of the great filters that is at BYU is, this university is unique in some incredible ways that make it special,” Pope said. “One of the filters, not everyone sees. Kahil sees it from the start. It’s a real hug.”