WATCH: Fargo South-Shanley boys hockey coach Dean French steps down
French had been the Bruins' coach since 2017 and guided the team to the 2023 North Dakota boys hockey state championship with a triple overtime win over Grand Forks Red River.
FARGO — Fargo South-Shanley boys hockey head coach Dean French has stepped down.
French had been the Bruins' coach since 2016 and guided the team to the 2023 North Dakota boys hockey state championship with a 3-2 win over Grand Forks Red River in triple overtime. It was the program's first state title since 2006.
Fargo Public Schools announced French's resignation in a news release Thursday afternoon.
"I just think it was time," French told The Forum. "When I took the job, this is kind of what I've always had in mind. About seven years or so is what I was shooting for with some goals in mind and what I was hoping we could accomplish in those years.
"I think we did what I was hoping we would do and so I think it's time to move on and have somebody else take over and see what they can do."
French compiled a 115-56-5 record over seven seasons behind the bench. He guided the Bruins to the state tournament the last five seasons, which included the 2023 state championship, a runner-up finish in 2020 and third-place finishes in 2021 and 2022.
French said he was almost certain that the 2022-23 season would be his last, whether the Bruins had ended it with a state title or not.
"It's hard to say," French said. "I was a little bit older when I got this job. I was turning 50, so for me this was kind of a last shot to be involved in coaching. Probably not. This is probably the window that I had before I have to move on and do some other things.
"I told people that I was close to that this was probably going to be my last year. I just didn't mention it to the team or the parents, but I had known going in that this was probably going to be my last year."
French recalled some of his favorite moments, noting that South-Shanley does not have a losing record against any North Dakota team over the last five seasons, going 96-32-1 in that span.
French also mentioned that the Bruins are the only team to defeat Grand Forks Red River five years in a row and Grand Forks Central four years in a row. Not only that, but South-Shanley took all four regular season games against the Grand Forks schools this past season.
"I have not found a team that has done that," French said. "And we were pretty proud of that. That's a difficult thing to do."
Perhaps the biggest moment in French's tenure was the night the Bruins ended Central's 81-game unbeaten streak against North Dakota schools. The Knights had a run of 79-0-2 against in-state programs that began on Feb. 27, 2016 before South-Shanley ended the streak with a 3-2 win nearly four years later on Jan. 14, 2020.
"That was a big win for our program," French said.
Prior to South-Shanley's state title in February, a Fargo-area school hadn't won the championship since Fargo North did it in 2012. For the next 10 years, eight championships were claimed by the Grand Forks programs.
"I didn't figure that we would ever be at the very same level as Central and Red River," French said. "They're the two elite programs in the state. But our goal was to try to get as close as possible."
French said South activities coordinator Mike Beaton, principal Dr. Todd Bertsch and administrative assistant Donna Lee have provided vital support.
"Coach French has worked tirelessly to build the Bruin boys hockey program to where it is currently at as state champions," Beaton said. "He has done so by establishing positive relationships with the student-athletes. He recognizes and celebrates the skills each player brings to the team. Those who played for Coach French grew as hockey players and, more importantly, as people.”
The search for the program's next head coach is underway.
French said what he will miss the most about being behind the bench is the players he had the privilege of coaching, who in turn helped bring the program to the current level of success.
"The players are everything," French said. "You work that hard with them and they give you a lot. They make deep commitments to play here. We have a lot of kids who left our program. I think 15 players left in the last three years, either to go to Triple-A hockey or they just quit the sport. We had a couple of football players who quit playing hockey and we had five or six programs who left our program before they even got to us. They left for Triple-A or wherever.
"But the ones who are here, the players who stayed with us and who are part of our program, they are very committed. They work very, very hard, they have great attitudes and they gave everything they had. I'll miss them immensely."