April 3, 2008
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After an immensely successful career, head coach Mark French will retire from the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball program, he announced on Thursday. The winningest coach in program history, French steps down after leading the Gauchos to 13 Big West Conference titles and 12 NCAA Tournament appearances during his 21 seasons in Santa Barbara. He will stay on as head coach at UCSB until a replacement is named.
"It has been both an honor and a pleasure to serve as the head women's basketball coach at UCSB for the past 21 years," French said. "The opportunity to be a part of the lives of our outstanding women has given my life a richness and deep sense of satisfaction that I will always cherish. The time has come, however, for me to step aside and allow our program to benefit from the leadership, passion, and energy of a new head coach."
After returning to his alma mater before the start of the 1987-88 season, French built UC Santa Barbara into one of the premiere programs on the West Coast. In his 21 seasons, he compiled an overall record of 438-200 for a winning percentage of .687. French guided the Gauchos to a winning record each of the last 18 seasons and his teams have qualified for postseason play 13 years in a row (10 NCAA, 3 WNIT).
Beginning in 1996-97, UCSB absolutely dominated the Big West, at one point winning 25 consecutive games in the conference tournament and earning the league's automatic bid in the NCAAs nine years in a row. After advancing to the NCAA Tournament Second Round a total of five times, French's Gauchos finished with an overall record of 27-7 and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history in 2004.
In all, French's squads have produced eight All-Americans and a total of 58 All-Big West honorees. Kristen Mann (2001-05) was the program's last All-American, earning the distinction from the Associated Press in 2005.
"I want to thank all of our current and former student athletes, assistant coaches, and staff members for their efforts in building and sustaining our program," French said. "A special thank you goes to all of the members of our local community who have provided us with fund-raising support, tremendous fan enthusiasm, and friendship over the years. Lastly, I will always be indebted to our administration at UCSB, especially Athletic Director Gary Cunningham and Chancellor Henry Yang, for allowing me the privilege of working with our athletes."
"Mark has done a tremendous job of leading our women's basketball program for the past 21 years," UCSB Director of Athletics Gary Cunningham said. "He is not only an outstanding coach, but he's an excellent mentor to our young women and I can't thank him enough for all he has done. I have great respect for the program he has built here and I want to congratulate him on his many achievements. He will be deeply missed and we wish him the very best in his retirement."
French will step down after guiding the Gauchos to an overall record of 23-8 this past season and a return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2005. After starting 2007-2008 with a record of 4-6, Santa Barbara won 14 straight from December 29 through February 21 and went on to finish 15-1 in Big West play, claiming a 12th regular season conference title in the last 13 years. UCSB handily defeated Cal Poly and UC Davis in the Big West Tournament to earn to the program's 12th NCAA Tournament berth, but lost to the University of Virginia in the first round. The Gauchos entered their match-up with the Cavaliers having won 19 of their last 20 games.
Prior to taking over at UCSB, French coached for four years at the University of the Pacific and spent four years at the helm at Idaho State, posting a record of 98-114 in those eight seasons. Individually, he has earned an unprecedented seven Big West Conference Coach of the Year honors and was named the WBCA District 8 Coach of the Year in 2002-03. French was also a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award that season. The current dean of Big West coaches, he has nine more years of experience in the league than any of his current counterparts and holds conference records for league wins (264) and longest tenure at one school (21 seasons).
French reached two major coaching milestones in 2006-07, winning his 400th victory at UCSB on December 18, 2006 before notching his 500th career victory overall January 4, 2007.