WHEELING, W. Va. – In the middle of playing their best hockey of the season, a 6-3-0-1 run in their last 10 games and 6-1-1 in their last eight, the Wheeling Nailers will have a new direction behind the bench the next time they hit the ice.
Mark French, the team’s 19th head coach, announced his resignation on Wednesday morning. Taking over on an interim basis for French is Derek Army, who served as an assistant coach under Jamie Russell for a season-and-a-half in Worcester, before they were both let go on November 27, 2019.
French has been unable to visit with his family, due to strict COVID protocols and border restrictions. After much consideration, he has determined the best decision is to resign and return home to be with his family in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
“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,” French said. “Getting to know Derek as a person and as a coach, I am confident that he will do a great job for the organization.”
French joined the Nailers on June 8, 2020, and went on to coach 46 games, as the team compiled a 16-24-6 record, good for 38 points. Though they stumbled out of the gate, the Nailers had been edging closer to .500 in the Eastern Conference, despite playing Fort Wayne and Indy for a significant chunk of the season.
“We appreciate Mark’s contributions to the team, but understand the stress that the pandemic has had on so many,” said Pittsburgh Penguins Manager of Hockey Operations Erik Heasley. “The organization has confidence in Derek Army to fulfill the duties of interim head coach. We will begin to look to add to the coaching staff immediately.”
The 30-year-old Army is no stranger to the coaching profession. His dad, Tim, is currently the coach of the AHL’s Iowa Wild, and his brother, Travis, has been an assistant coach with Lawrenceburg Academy, a prep school in the USHS-Prep league.
“I’m thankful for every second that I was able to spend with Mark, as I was able to learn about how he handles the players, systems, and situations. There is a reason he has won everywhere he has been. Family comes first, so I support his decision to be with them,” Army said. “I loved being a player here and an assistant coach here, and I especially enjoy being part of this community. I am extremely thankful to Don Rigby, Brian Komorowski, and the Pittsburgh Penguins for giving me this opportunity, and I am excited to take on this next challenge.”
Army will begin his head coaching career Friday night, as the Komets and Nailers continue their five-game series in Fort Wayne.