Saying it’s time for a fresh face to lead the program, George French resigned as Derby’s head coach Tuesday morning after 10 seasons at the helm.
French, a 1999 Derby graduate who played there for John Oko, infused new life into the Red Raiders when he took over the program in 2010 during a fourth and final year as a co-op with O’Brien Tech.
At the time, Derby, which was just two years into its move from the SCC to the NVL, hadn’t had a winning season since 1996 — when French was a sophomore.
He went 44-58 in 10 seasons, including three winning seasons. His 2012 team went 6-4 to break the Derby’s 16-year drought without a winning record. French’s best season at Derby was a 7-4 mark in 2014, followed by a 6-4 finish in 2015.
But Derby, one of the state’s smallest schools, often struggled with numbers — sometimes going into games with around 20 players or less due to injuries or other considerations.
The Red Raiders won 11 games over George’s final four seasons. That includes a 2-8 finish this year, which saw the opening of the new multi-million dollar Leo F. Ryan Sports Complex and Payden Field House.
“It’s just time for me,” said George, 38, who works as a foreman at Sikorsky Aircraft. “It’s been 10 years. We oversaw the opening of the new complex. We did some good things over the years. That’s really all there is to it.
“I gave everything I had to this place. It’s time for a new coach to come in here to jump-start this program and get things moving again.”
George told his team Tuesday morning after Derby hosted the Class S semifinal game between Ansonia and Sheehan.
What he’ll cherish most is the relationships he developed with his small, but tight-knit roster of players.
“We’ve had some very good players over the years,” George said, ticking off names like Ray and Mike Krieger, Dillon McMahon, Ricky Bartone, Tom Abel and current players like Julian Delarosa. “And each kid brings something new. They all learned life lessons. I’ll always have real fond memories.
“We’re a small school and you get to know these boys’ heartaches, whether they need a ride home; if they’re eating at home, or need stuff for school… We’re a family. I can tell you more about their backgrounds than what they did for me on the field.”
Despite current talks about merging the school district with next-door Ansonia, George sees a good future for Derby for as long as it remains.
“You look at it, everything is cyclical. There have been years where we had rosters of 40 or 50 kids. And there have been years where we’ve been down to 28, playing games with 17.
“I just think it’s time for a new coach who can bring some new energy and excitement back to Derby.”
George said he isn’t thinking about coaching anywhere else, just yet.
“Everybody who keeps asking me that, I say the same thing: I’m going to enjoy Christmas and not worry about the weight room right now. Football is a year-round commitment. I told my girlfriend, for once, I’m just going to enjoy Christmas.”