Continuity is an essential part of a successful athletic program, and in his first 24 seasons at the helm of Kansas soccer, head coach Mark Francis has brought just that. In 2023, Francis will be entering his 25th season leading the program.
After taking over a program just past its infancy, Francis effectively etched his signature on Kansas soccer by becoming not only the winningest coach in its history, but leading his team to nine NCAA Tournaments, 18 Big 12 Championship Tournaments and helping 81 student-athletes garner all-conference accolades, including seven that went on to earn All-America status.
Since 1999, Francis has amassed a 258-192-43 record, with 15 seasons of at least 10 victories. He is ranked second among active Big 12 coaches in wins at a single school. He also leads the league among active coaches with his 99 career Big 12 victories.
Francis’ résumé is extensive, as he has coached and played at nearly all levels of the game. Francis worked his way up through the head coaching ranks wearing a whistle at the high school, junior college, Division I and professional levels. As a player, Francis was a three-time All-American at SMU and spent 10 seasons playing professionally in the APSL, the NPSL and the USISL.
After moving into its new, state-of-the-art facility at Rock Chalk Park in 2014, Francis’ program took another step forward, elevating itself as one of the top teams in the Big 12 and a perennial top-25 NCAA squad. Now as the tenants of one of the top soccer facilities in the U.S., Francis and his staff are attracting some of the top talent from across the globe to Lawrence and the results over the last nine seasons can back up the progress being made.
During an unprecedented 2020 season due to COVID-19, Francis helped Kansas navigate through a split season playing nine Big 12 games in the fall being concluding the season with four nonconference matches in the spring. After going 5-3-1 in the fall, KU finished fourth in the Big 12 and was ranked No. 5 by the United Soccer Coaches for the highest ranking in program history. Francis coached senior Ceri Holland to All-Big 12 Second Team honors and freshman Moira Kelley to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. Following the fall season, Holland joined the Wales National Soccer team in February as the team prepared for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign. Holland also signed to play professionally with Liverpool FC Women and saw instant success scoring three goals in her first four games to earn FA Women’s Championship Player of the Month honors after garnering Midwest All-Region Second-Team honors.
Francis saw his Jayhawk team take the program even further in 2019 as he coached Kansas to its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance, its fourth in six years, and its second trip to the Round of 16 of the Big Dance. KU put together a program-record stretch of 11-straight unbeaten results en route to a 17-win season, which was highlighted by the Jayhawks claiming its first-ever Big 12 Tournament Championship in addition to the run to the Sweet 16. Senior forward Katie McClure became the seventh Jayhawk in program history to earn All-America status, claiming a spot on the third team after posting a Big 12-leading 17 goals. Senior Addisyn Merrick also closed her KU career on a high note as she was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, becoming the second Jayhawk in three seasons to earn the honor. Both McClure and Merrick heard their name calls in the NWSL Draft shortly after season’s end, marking the first time in program history that two Jayhawks were selected in a single draft.
It was a season to remember for Francis and the Jayhawks in 2014, as he led his squad to one of the best seasons in program history. He picked up his 200th career coaching victory in KU’s 4-1 win over Wake Forest and proceed to see his team reel off eight-straight wins to start the season, the best start in program history. His team ended the year with 15 victories, the third-most ever by a Jayhawk squad and made the program’s sixth NCAA tournament appearance. Junior Liana Salazar also had a breakout season in becoming Kansas’ sixth All-America honoree after she was named to the Third Team.
Francis tallied his 150th KU coaching victory in 2012 and led his squad to its 10th 10-win season during his tenure in Lawrence. The program notched its fifth victory over a top-10 ranked squad when it defeated No. 7 Oklahoma State 2-1 while also finding itself ranked in the top-25 over a few weeks during the season. Senior Whitney Berry became KU’s all-time assists leader (32) and the program’s 11th player to be named to the All-Big 12 First Team.
Francis also mentored junior Caroline Kastor to a breakout season as she led the team in goals (11) and points (24). She also eventually garnered Academic All-America honors, making her the second player under Francis to earn the distinction.
Making its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years, Francis’ 2011 Kansas team saw records fall and student-athletes honored by a variety of outlets. KU advanced to its 11th Big 12 Championship in the past 12 seasons but fell to Texas A&M in penalty kicks. Kansas’ résumé still earned the team a spot in the NCAA Tournament where it fell to Georgia in first-round action to conclude the year 11-9-1 overall and with a No. 47 RPI. It marked the ninth time in the past 11 seasons that Francis’ squad has earned double-digit wins.
Junior Whitney Berry became the program’s single-season assist record holder with 13 helpers as she aided the team in producing the second-most goals in a KU season (46). Berry was one of three Jayhawks to garner all-conference and all-region honors by the Big 12 Conference and National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), respectively, joining freshmen Liana Salazar and Ingrid Vidal on the lists. It marked the eighth time that Francis has coached multiple all-region honorees.
In 2009, Francis’ Jayhawks battled injuries throughout the season and managed a 12-8-2 overall mark, which qualified them for a 10th-consecutive conference tournament berth. KU opened the season at 7-1-1 and was ranked as high as No. 17 in the country. This marked the seventh-straight year that the Jayhawks found themselves in the national polls for at least one week. Francis coached three All-Big 12 selections, as well as three players who were selected all-region by the NSCAA. Following the season, senior defender Estelle Johnson was drafted by the Los Angeles Sol of the Women’s Professional Soccer League, the first Jayhawk to be drafted by a professional soccer league. Freshman Sarah Robbins was also honored by being invited to try out for the Canadian National U-20 team.
The 2008 season was one for the record books as Kansas recorded 13 wins and returned to the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks knocked off four nationally-ranked teams en route to their tournament berth, including a pair of wins over long-time nemesis Texas A&M. KU became the first team in three years to defeat the Aggies twice in the same season.
The Jayhawks topped four other ranked teams during the season and capped their remarkable run with a 2-1 triumph over Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Several players received accolades throughout and following the season. Freshman Emily Cressy was named a Freshman All-American by Soccer Buzz as well as Soccer America, while teammates Monica Dolinsky and Johnson joined her on the All-Central Region Team. Dolinsky was also named All-Big 12 First Team, while Cressy became KU’s first Big 12 Rookie of the Year.
In 2007, Francis’ Jayhawks recorded a 5-2-3 mark in the Big 12 to place third in the league. It marked the fifth-straight year that Kansas placed fourth or better in the conference, and the fourth time in Francis’ tenure that KU placed in the top three in the conference standings. Despite injuries to key players early in the season, the Jayhawks reached their eighth-straight Big 12 Soccer Championship in San Antonio.
KU’s season was highlighted by a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against No. 12 Duke on Sept. 10, which featured a four-goal rally in the second half by the Jayhawks. KU also posted road victories at Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa State and Missouri and earned a national ranking in the top-25 polls for the fifth time in the last six seasons. The team jumped to No. 18 in the Soccer America poll and No. 21 in the Soccer Times poll on Sept. 11.
The Jayhawks finished the 2005 season in a four-team tie for second place in the Big 12 Conference. The season saw a one-goal victory against Texas on CSTV, KU’s first-ever win against the Longhorns and an overtime win against Border Showdown rival Missouri. The Jayhawks also earned a trip to their sixth-straight Big 12 Soccer Championship in the process.
The 2004 season was a year filled with program firsts as numerous records were broken. The Jayhawks compiled a program-best record of 18-5 on their way to the Big 12 Championship. It was the first for the soccer team and second among KU women’s sports, the first going to basketball in 1997.
Francis earned Big 12 Coach of the Year as well as the Central Region Coach of the Year honors. He also won his 100th overall match with a victory against Texas Tech on Oct. 1.
KU’s 8-2 league record was its best in program history. Along the way, the Jayhawks beat Texas A&M for the first time, 1-0, in College Station. The Jayhawks also received their first-ever national top-10 ranking, topping out at sixth, and were ranked in the top 20 for most of the season. They also advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, this time entering as the eighth-seed and hosting the first two rounds.
In 2004, Kansas players rewrote the record books. Caroline Smith added 11 goals to her previous mark, totaling a program-best 42. Meghan Miller also tacked on 11 shutouts to her record, finishing with 30 career shutouts and a program-low 0.57 goals against average (GAA). The team also broke the record for goals scored with 47 and had the most shutouts with 13.
Jayhawks garnered individual awards with eight players making the all-conference teams, the most of any Big 12 team. KU also boasted four All-Americans, the highest total among any team across the country.
In 2003, Kansas soccer reached new heights under Francis’ leadership. The Jayhawks posted an 18-6-1 mark and advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. With a 6-3-1 record in the Big 12, KU finished third. Along with the team accomplishments, several players were honored for their efforts during the 2003 campaign, including Caroline Smith being named to several All-America teams as well as Holly Gault being selected as a Freshman All-American by Soccer Buzz. With Francis’ help, KU’s players etched their names in the record book, as Smith became the program’s all-time leader in goals, points and game-winning goals and Miller set the school mark in career shutouts and career GAA.
In 2002, Francis led Kansas to an overall record of 11-7-2, including a then-school record six-straight wins and a seven-game unbeaten streak during the first half of the season. The Jayhawks opened the season 6-1-1, marking their best start ever. Francis’ team ranked in the Central Region’s Top 10 for 10 consecutive weeks.
In 2001, Francis guided the Jayhawks to a 13-7-0 overall record and a 7-3-0 Big 12 mark. For his efforts, Soccer Buzz named Francis the 2001 Central Region Coach of the Year, as he led his Jayhawks into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Kansas finished the season ranked sixth in the Central Region, marking the ninth-best turnaround in the nation, improving five games from the previous season.
The 2001 Kansas team shattered many school records, including more than 10 single-season individual, seven career and over a dozen team records. In addition, Francis saw four of his players – Pardis Brown and Hilla Rantala (second team), and Monica Brothers and Meghan Miller (freshman team) – garner All-Big 12 honors.
In 1999, the Jayhawks set a team season record with eight victories and tied the KU record for home wins with five. Francis’ attack-oriented system contributed to single-season records for points (87) and assists (29).
A standout player in his own right, Francis is a 1987 graduate of Southern Methodist University where he was a three-time All-America selection for the Mustangs. As a senior, he was named SMU’s Male Athlete of the Year, the Dallas All-Sports Association College Athlete of the Year and was selected to Soccer America’s All-College MVP Team. In addition, he was a two-time nominee for the Hermann Trophy, given to the nation’s most outstanding soccer player.
Professionally, Francis played 10 seasons as a member of the Dayton Dynamos (NPSL), Mobile Revelers, Dallas Rockets (USISL) and the Orlando Lions (APSL).
After being hired at South Alabama just a few weeks prior to the start of the 1996 season, Francis inherited a depleted roster and finished his first season with a 2-17 record. The following year, he led the Jaguars to an 18-3-1 mark, including an unbeaten regular season in Big South Conference play. The 16-win turnaround is still the biggest in NCAA Division I soccer history.
In the summer of 2003, Francis served as an assistant for the U.S. Under-21 National Team that won the gold medal in the Under-21 Nordic Cup in Denmark. Francis was with the team when training began in January at the U.S. Soccer Training Headquarters in Chula Vista, California and traveled with the squad as it toured Brazil.
Francis has served as an Olympic Development Program staff coach in Region II and III and is a Kansas state ODP coach. He holds an “A” coaching license from the United States Soccer Federation, a National Certificate and premier license in Brazil from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and a youth certificate from the Dutch Soccer Federation.
A native of London, England, Francis resides in Lawrence and has three children: Carlin, Hayley and Caleb.
|THE FRANCIS FILE|
|Alma Mater: SMU, 1987|
|Hometown: London, England|
|Children: Carlin, Hayley and Caleb|
|at Kansas: 258-191-44 (24 seasons)|
|Overall: 291-216-45 (27 seasons)|
|HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE|
|1996-98, South Alabama|
|1997, Mobile Revelers (USISL)|
|1995, Brookhaven College, Head Coach|
|1991-96, Highland Park High School|
|All-American - 1985, 1987, 1988|
|SMU Male Athlete of the Year - 1987|
|Dallas All-Sports Association|
|College Athlete of the Year - 1987|
|Soccer America's All-College|
|MVP Team - 1987|
|2004 Big 12 Coach of the Year|
|2004 Central Region Coach of the Year|
|2001 Central Region Coach of the Year|
|1998 Big South Conference Coach of the Year|
|1997 Big South Conference Coach of the Year|
|1997 Soccer Buzz Conference Coach of the Year|