Wheeling Nailers’ head coach French resigns
WHEELING — The Wheeling Nailers announced Wednesday that head coach Mark French has resigned from his position and assistant coach Derek Army has been named the interim head coach.
French made the decision to step down to be with his family, who lives on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Due to strict COVID and border restrictions, he hasn’t visited his family in six months. French also has two children — a daughter who is a freshman in high school and an 11-year old son — which has made the last six months even more difficult for him.
French said in a press release Wednesday that, “I appreciated my time in Wheeling and the relationships I was able to develop in a short amount of time, but right now, I felt like I needed to put my family first. Getting to know Derek as a person and as a coach, I am confident that he will do a great job for the organization.”
Wheeling Nailers’ President Brian Komorowski and the organization were very understanding of French’s decision.
“COVID has played a big role,” Komorowski said. “His family can’t come down, and he can’t go up. There have been times they were thinking it would open up, but it’s just been hard. It was to the point where he had to make a decision as to what was best for him and his family, and we support that.
“It was a personal and hard decision for him. As he said, he needs to be a father. You can only do so much over the phone or on FaceTime, but when your son needs a hug, it’s so hard. I have three kids, and I couldn’t have done what he did over the last six months.”
French, the 19th head coach in Wheeling history, turned in a record of 16-24-6 this year but had the team playing well as of late — leaving with a 6-1-1 mark over his last eight games.
“It’s tough to measure by wins and losses because we’ve really been plagued by injuries this year but we’ve started getting healthy and we have played very well. Mark is a phenomenal coach and he will be missed.”
Stepping right into the action is the 30-year old Army — a fan favorite during his time as a player with the Nailers on and off from 2013-2018. He also was a key player on the 2016 Nailers team that reached the Kelly Cup.
That season, he finished with 23 points during the regular season and added 10 more in the postseason.
Army also did not miss a game during the 2014-2015 season.
“Wheeling means the world to me,” Army said. “It’s a place that took me in as a kid and the fans were there for me when I was young. It’s the little things like when I turned 23 and 24, fans gave me birthday cards and that meant a lot to me. So now, being back is something I’ll cherish.
“In terms of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the question is always ‘what hat is he going to wear?’ Did Reggie Jackson want to go in as a New York Yankee or an Oakland A? I had a great time at Providence College but as I came through here and went to the Kelly Cup, it was always a Nailers hat for me.”
Army coached his first practice as the interim head coach on Wednesday — an opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible without the time spent with French.
“I truly have learned a lot from him,” Army said of Coach French. “He’s a mentor. He sort of looked after me from the get-go. We have a great relationship and I learned a lot about coaching style from how he approached the players. He knew how to push buttons and push guys — how he handled the systems and even how he watched games. He helped me see a different side of it.
“Most importantly, he’s very influential. He cares a lot about everyone. The thing I respect the most is that everyone says ‘family first’ and for him to make the decision for his family first really speaks volumes to his character.”
Along with French’s mentorship, Army’s father, Tim Army, is the current head coach for the AHL’s Iowa Wild. Tim also coached in the NHL as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
“I watched my dad from a young age,” Derek Army said. “I grew up wanting to be in the NHL. Coaching was always my goal and as time went on, I fell in love with this community here and I think the community took to me and the team. So, to be the bench boss here in Wheeling is very exciting and very surreal.”
Army’s first game as the interim head coach will be Friday night at Fort Wayne and his first home game will come on Sunday when the Komets come to Wheeling.
JOLY TRADED TO ORLANDO
The Nailers have traded forward Michael Joly to the Orlando Solar Bears in exchange for multiple future considerations. This completes a trade from earlier in the season, when the Nailers acquired defenseman Patrick McNally.
Joly is coming off of a four-point game on Sunday and tallied 21 points in 20 games with the Nailers this season.