The UIC men's basketball program has risen to new heights over the last 11 years, and one man who has been there every step of the way is associate head coach Mark Coomes, who enters his 13th season alongside Jimmy Collins.
Coomes has been a key part of the Flames' decade-plus run of success. During his tenure on the sidelines, UIC has made three trips to the NCAA Tournament - the first three appearances in the school history - and its first-ever trip to the National Invitation Tournament, while posting four 20-win campaigns, including a school record 24 victories in 2003-04.
The Flames have also claimed a regular-season conference championship (1998) and a pair of league tournament crowns (2002, 2004) under his tutelage.
A 33-year college coaching veteran, Coomes has put that experience to work for him at UIC, aiding the team in a variety of roles. His main responsibilities with the team include helping to develop the Flames' perimeter players, formulating offensive strategies, compliance within the program and acting as recruiting co-coordinator.
Coomes' recruiting exploits can be seen by looking no further than at the team's 2007-08 roster as he was instrumental in the signing of All-State honorees Spencer Stewart and Tori Boyd, as well as the runner-up for Illinois Mr. Basketball honors in 2007, All-State recipient Robert Kreps.
In December of 2006, Coomes was asked to expand his role with the UIC basketball team as he took over the program as interim head coach when Collins was forced to miss the final 19 games of the season after suffering an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Coomes called upon his head coaching experience from successful stints at Wabash Valley College and Southern Indiana and quickly showed that the Flames were in capable hands in Collins' absence.
He directed UIC to a dramatic overtime triumph over No. 12 Butler on January 9, marking the highest ranked opponent the Flames have ever defeated. Coomes also led the team to a regular-season series sweep of preseason Horizon League favorite Loyola, and had the squad playing its best basketball at seasons end as the Flames won five of their last six games.
Collins knew this was the type of basketball savant he was getting when he hired Coomes as the two had served as assistant coaches together at the University of Illinois under Lou Henson for nine seasons.
It was also the reason Collins earmarked Coomes as a key cog in the rebuilding of the UIC basketball program when he was initially hired as head coach of the Flames in 1996.
Collins lured Coomes away from his head coaching post at Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., where he had just concluded his second two-year stint at the helm of the program.
During the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons, the Warriors compiled an impressive 64-6 record, including a 34-3 mark and a fifth-place finish in the country in '95-96. His squads were also champions of the Great Rivers Athletic Conference all four seasons he coached at WVC. Thirty-four wins in '95-96 set a new school record while the Warriors' 24 consecutive victories was also a new school mark. Coomes left WVC with a record of 127 wins and only 19 losses for an 87% winning percentage, which is the best in school history.
Prior to his position at Wabash Valley College, Coomes was an assistant coach at the University of Illinois for nine years. While there, he coached several outstanding players including NBA stars Nick Anderson and Kendall Gill. Coomes also helped direct the Fighting Illini to its most memorable season in school history when the squad compiled a 31-5 record and made an NCAA Final Four appearance in Seattle in 1989.
In 1984-85, Coomes was head coach and athletic director at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Under Coomes, the Screaming Eagles won the Great Lakes Valley Conference championship and received a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament.
Coomes earned his bachelor's degree in 1974 from Western Illinois University. In 1975, he received his master's degree in Educational Management and Development from New Mexico State.
Coomes and his wife, Kathy, reside in Chicago. Coomes has two children, Anthony and Andrea.