Joe French became UMBC’s all-time winningest softball coach with a 9-0 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore on March 11, 2006, and French enters his ninth season as head coach of the Retrievers with 277 victories against 196 defeats, good for a .586 winning percentage.
French has been a mentor at every level, including junior college, Division-III, Division-II and Division-I, and he has been highly successful at every stop, setting records everywhere he went. He has coached more than 1,000 games in 20 seasons at the helm and racked up 703 wins combined in softball, women’s basketball and tennis. His career records stand at 491-305-1 (.617) in 16 years of softball, 205-162 (.524) in 14 years of basketball and 7-3 (.700) in one season of tennis. As a college coach in all sports, he has posted an overall record of 703-470-1 for a .599 career winning percentage.
French’s milestone 400th victory in softball was UMBC’s last of the 2006 season but an important one at that, a 5-1 decision over top-seeded
While he has worked in college athletics, physical education and recreational sports since 1977, French’s coaching career began in 1982 as the head women’s basketball coach at Alfred State College in
French then moved on to
After five years as an assistant women’s basketball coach at the
French came to UMBC, his first Division-I head coaching job, before the 2002 season, and he immediately led the Retrievers to their second-ever NCAA berth and a school-record 47 wins. The Retrievers defeated Bethune-Cookman in the NCAA play-in series for their first victory in an NCAA Tournament game in school history, and they also won a game in the NCAA Regionals with a 7-1 triumph over
In French’s first two seasons at UMBC, his teams were 37-7 in Northeast Conference games. With a 40-22 record in 2003, the Retrievers posted back-to-back 40-win seasons for the first time in school history.
However, the next two seasons were more of a struggle for the Retrievers, as UMBC made the switch from the Northeast Conference to the more competitive America East. In doing so, French suffered his first two losing seasons since his first year at
“What you find in the America East are more athletic players who are more advanced, and are definitely bigger and stronger,” said the coach, who added there are no easy outs in the league. “You have to get nine batters out every game, which is a challenge for the pitchers as well as the defense.”
But 2006 was a different story for the Retrievers. UMBC won 46 games – the second-most in school history – and advanced to its first-ever America East Championships with an 11-10 conference mark.
In addition, in their first season without all-time hits, home runs and RBIs leader Kristie Pickeral, the Retrievers shattered all three team records, as well as team marks in runs, extra-base hits, walks and total bases. The power surge was infectious, as a school-record 14 different players hit at least one homer, and UMBC was one of just four Division-I teams with at least 80 round-trippers. The Retrievers were also one of the most prolific run-scoring teams in the nation, ranking second in the country with 6.53 runs per game.
While the 2007 Retrievers did not set records at the same rate as in the previous season, they achieved something even more important: their first-ever appearance in the America East Championship game. With a 13-8 record, UMBC was the second seed in the conference tournament, but eventually lost in the finals to three-time defending champion
Statistically, while not quite as prolific as the 2006 team, the 2007 squad still ranked in the top 25 in the NCAA in runs scored, home runs and doubles and the top 50 in slugging percentage and batting average.
Despite finishing the season four games under .500 overall in 2008, the Retrievers established themselves as a perennial contender with a third straight trip to the conference tournament, then made it four in a row in 2009, when they batted .285 and scored a league-best 265 runs.
During French’s tenure at UMBC, his teams have combined for a .286 batting average with more than 3,600 hits, including 362 home runs.
UMBC’s offensive outbursts over the last several seasons have just reaffirmed French’s reputation as one of the best hitting coaches on the east coast. A strong believer in bat speed, line drive power and hitting to all fields, his 2002 and 2003 UMBC teams were also among the best in the nation offensively.
“Look for something you can hit,” French said. “Be selective yet aggressive at the plate and finish your swing. On offense, the more times you can turn the lineup over, the more successful you should be.”
A strong recruiter, French is his own recruiting coordinator and has a keen eye for talent, as he looks for strong athletes on the field who are also strong students in the classroom. Over the past 28 years, French's softball and basketball teams have been ranked both regionally and nationally. In addition, his players have received All-America, All-Region, All-ECAC and All-Conference honors.
In his first eight seasons at UMBC alone, French has coached eight All-Region players and 39 All-Conference athletes, including the 2002 NEC Rookie of the Year, the 2002 and 2003 NEC Players of the Year and the 2006 America East Player of the Year, as well as four Academic All-District team members. In addition, two of his players – Lisa Boone and Deanna Vecchio – have been inducted into the UMBC Athletic Hall of Fame.
Another first occurred for French and the Retrievers in 2006 when junior college transfer Melanie Denischuk – the America East Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team all-conference pick – was selected as a top-25 finalist for the prestigious USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award.
French received his bachelor's degree in recreation from SUNY-Brockport in 1977 and his master's in recreation from the