Beloved Danville coach loses battle with lung cancer

DANVILLE, Calif. (KTVU) - A Danville coach who inspired by example was remembered Saturday night, by hundreds of people who attended a candlelight vigil.

Forty eight year old Todd French lost a four-year battle with lung cancer Friday, and the outpouring of grief was immediate.

Those who came to Danville Station Park said they needed to lean on each other and talk about the man who shaped so many lives through youth sports.

"Let's not stress, let's settle down, and let's get back to our fundamentals," French told lacrosse players on a 2011 tournament video, the same year he was diagnosed. "Remember when we're struggling a little bit, it's all about fundamentals, all about a team," he encouraged them.

French never smoked, so he was blindsided by the stage 4 cancer and its bleak prognosis.

His death wasn't a surprise to those who gathered; more surprising was how he managed to battle the disease for four years, and lived so fully in spite of it.

French coached from a wheelchair when he had to, but never missed a game, at his beloved San Ramon Valley High School.

"It didn't matter if you were on the lacrosse field or not," said a tearful graduate Nick Garlieb to the crowd, "he knew how to be real with you and help you with any problems you were having."

"You know I love you guys, right? Do you love me? We're a team!" he is heard, on the tournament clip, huddled with his lacrosse players.

French was always there with advice and encouragement- a coach athletes wanted to please, a man they wanted to be like.

"In the way he spoke to you, it wouldn't matter, the way he used his words," recalled Garlieb, "he could talk about anything, and I would be interested."

Family pastor Mark Wollen reminded the mourners, great coaches know how to mentor and motivate.

Videos show French did so with intensity and humor, urging his team "you dudes are ready to come out and punch these guys right in the kisser!"

He was funny, he was real, and because he never let his disease drive him from the field, Todd French left a powerful impression, and an indelible lesson.

"Great coaches also know how to take people to the next level," observed Rev. Wollen, "to places they didn't know they could go, and Coach French was like that."

"That's the first step, you have to believe it," French was fond of telling student athletes, "You believe it, things can happen, believe it!"

"We all lost a great man and a great friend," shared Drew Nichols, football coach at SRVHS and French's best friend. "And we all need to emulate him in some way."

Nichol's voice broke as he ended, "Team French forever, I love you man with all my heart."

French's wife Michelle, and his sons Austin and Cole listened to the heartfelt tributes, surrounded by support and love.

A public memorial is planned for Sunday February 15 from 1-3 p.m. at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville.

It will be held on the athletic field, where Todd French touched so many lives, and where he was still on the sidelines at football games just a few weeks ago.