Francis Marion University officials have announced that the interim tag has been removed from Patriot men’s basketball head coach Jake Zehnder‘s title.
The announcement was made before the team in a raucous locker room following Friday’s 87-75 win over local-rival Coker University – a victory that upped the Patriots’ season record to 7-4.
“Athletic director Murray Hartzler and I had the pleasure of visiting with the team following Friday’s big win,” said FMU president Dr. Fred Carter. “We were there to congratulate the squad on leading the conference with a 4-1 mark, producing a resounding victory over Coker, and securing the permanent coaching job for their interim coach.
“Coach Zehnder didn’t get the job exclusively based on the Coker win, but rather the way he assumed leadership of the program and coached through the first part of the season. Murray and I were convinced that he should be our next coach. Judging by the reaction of the squad following the announcement, so was the team.”
Zehnder was named the interim head coach on Oct. 11 after the retirement of long-time head coach Gary Edwards. He becomes the seventh head coach in the program’s now 53-year history, and is the first in program history to win seven of his opening 11 contests.
“I concur with Dr. Carter’s sentiments,” Hartzler added. “When we handed the reigns to Jake in October on short notice, we were confident he could handle the challenge. He has done so and more. He has guided the team to near the top of the conference standings, while also managing the off-floor duties that come with being a head coach. We are looking forward to what the future holds for both him and the Patriot men’s basketball program.”
Zehnder served as Edwards’ assistant coach during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns. Last season, he helped the Patriot program to a 10-win improvement over the previous season, and was the recipient of the University’s 2021-22 Frankie Award for Assistant Coach of the Year.
“I am humbled by this opportunity,” Zehnder stated. “Since we began practice in October, I have worked hard in all aspects of the program. The players have bought in to what we are striving to accomplish, both on and off the floor. My goal continues to be the establishment of a basketball program that the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and fans can all be proud of. I am grateful for the support of Dr. Carter and Murray, and will work tirelessly to uphold their values for the University.”
A native of St. Cloud, Fla., Zehnder came to FMU after six seasons as an assistant coach at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla., where those Patriots compiled a 138-52 mark. He also helped guide the school to a state-best 13th consecutive FCSAA State Tournament appearance and NJCAA Top 25 rankings in four of his six years.
During the 2019-20 season, CF finished 25-7 and won the Mid-Florida Conference championship. In 2018, Zehnder was recognized as the top junior college assistant coach under 30-years-old by Coachstat.net.
Before arriving at CF, Zehnder served as the head coach of the freshmen and assistant coach of the varsity team at The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla., from 2012 to 2014. His coaching career also includes a stint as an assistant at P.K. Yonge during the 2011-12 season. While at The Rock School, Zehnder coached a number of accomplished players, including Joel Embiid, former No.4 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and 5-time NBA All-Star.
Zehnder earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in business and organizational management from the College of Central Florida. He played high school basketball at both Harmony High School and Florida Air Academy.