Long-time Francis Marion Head Coach Edwards announces retirement

Long-time Francis Marion University men’s basketball head coach Gary Edwards announced his retirement on Tuesday (Oct. 11) prior to the beginning of the 2022-23 season.

FMU officials have named assistant coach Jake Zehnder as the interim head coach for the upcoming campaign.

A native of Virginia Beach, Va., Edwards graced the FMU sidelines for the past 16 seasons and is the second winningest coach in program history with 212 victories. 

He leaves the coaching profession 27th all-time among NCAA Division II coaches in wins with a 601-478 mark in 38 seasons, a record that includes a 7-6 mark in NCAA Tournament games and an 8-1 mark when playing for a conference or regional championship. 

Following the recent 2021-22 season when his Patriots posted a 10-win improvement over the covid-shortened 2020-21 campaign, he was named the recipient of the 2022 Jack Bennett Man of the Year Award from College Insider, Inc.

“As I started to prepare for this upcoming season, I realized I did not have the passion or the patience this team deserved,” Edwards said.  “Like many coaches, I have always been able to ‘fill my tank’ in the off-season, but after coaching men’s collegiate basketball for over 43 years, I’m afraid my tank is empty.

“Like Roy Williams said when he retired from North Carolina last year, I no longer feel I am the best man for this job.  Coach Zehnder recruited all of the players on this team, he cares for them deeply, and I am confident these young men are in good coaching hands.

“It has been a pleasure being a part of the Francis Marion University community these past 16 years. Francis Marion is a special place led by a special president.  My family and I will be forever grateful to President (Dr.) Fred Carter and Director of Athletics Murray Hartzler for their faith, support, and encouragement throughout my tenure.

“I would never have lasted in a tough profession this long without great players, great assistant coaches, and a great support staff. My heartfelt thanks to all!  In addition, thank you to Florence for your support and friendship. I will miss the “Four Great Days of Summer” basketball camp and seeing so many of our youngsters in the community grow up. Florence will always hold a special place in my heart.”

In April 2017, Edwards was honored as the Pee Dee Area Big Brothers Big Sisters Association’s 2017 Eugene N. Zeigler Volunteer of the Year Award winner.

“Gary has been a remarkable coach and has run a fine basketball program,” Carter said.  “He is also a very, very dear friend.  I wish him as much success in the future as he has had here at Francis Marion.”

Edwards, 65, took over the reins of the FMU program on April 26, 2006, becoming the sixth head coach in the program’s now 53-year history. 

He improved the Patriots’ win total in each of his first four seasons in Florence and guided FMU to four consecutive winning campaigns, one shy of the program record.

During the back-to-back seasons of 2017-18 and 2018-19, the Patriots compiled 41 wins, earned consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, and produced two All-Americans who both earned Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year accolades – including the program’s all-time scoring leader.

Since 2012, he has also served as Associate Athletic Director for Internal Operations.

“For the past 16 years, coach Edwards has been a fixture on the Patriot athletics landscape.  His accomplishments will be appreciated and remembered for years to come, and his presence will be missed,” Hartzler said.  “The University and the athletic department wishes him all the best as he enters a new phase of his life.”

During the 2008-09 campaign, Edwards took the Patriots overseas to compete in the prestigious Amsterdam Haarlem Basketball Week, held each year in the Netherlands. FMU competed against teams from the Netherlands and Kazakhstan, as well as the Israeli National Team.

Edwards came to Francis Marion after 10 seasons as head coach at NCAA Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he recorded a 206-88 mark and four trips to the Division II national tournament.

He also served as head coach at Division I Charleston Southern University, where he registered 121 wins, and coached at Atlantic Christian College (now known as Barton College), where he compiled a 62-35 mark in three seasons and led the Bulldogs to two NAIA national tournament appearances.

Edwards was an academic All-American on the basketball court at Virginia Wesleyan College.

Each of the past 15 seasons (2007-22), he has authored a weekly sports column in the Florence (S.C.) Morning News, and has served as director of the Patriot summer basketball camps, including the “Four Great Days of Summer” camp.


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