Look, no one said life as an FBS start up is easy. As a UTSA alumnus I know that fact all too well. But the struggles the Charlotte 49ers have shown in their first years back on the gridiron since 1948 might account for the worst performances of any FBS start up program in modern history.
Evaluating the program’s three years in the FBS using the S&P+ index (an algorithm that ranks teams based off of opponent-adjusted performances and results) tells a dreadful tale of failure. Charlotte opened up as the 124th ranked team in the nation in 2015, fell to 125th in 2016 despite winning four games, then dropped again to 126th in the nation this year.
Charlotte’s two years in the FCS ranks were no more gracious to the 49ers as they turned in 5-6 records in consecutive years before making the jump to Conference USA. The 49ers took some truly discouraging losses in those early years including a 22-45 loss to Division II UNC Pembroke and a 28-35 loss to Division III Wesley in the program’s first season of play since restarting the program.
All in all, Charlotte will enter the 2018 season with a 17-40 record and just four wins through 23 games in Conference USA play.
One would think these results are entirely unacceptable and grounds for a departure from the status quo under Brad Lambert, the only head coach Charlotte has known in its modern iteration. Yesterday we learned that’s not the case as Charlotte is bringing Head Coach Brad Lambert back for a sixth year. If the 49ers are lucky they might make a ten point jump to become the 13th worst program in the nation.
In what I might refer to as most surprising note we received today…word that Brad Lambert, who just completed season 5 at Charlotte (1-11 this year, 7-29 last 3) is expected to return pic.twitter.com/9JXdUfC97u— FootballScoop Staff (@FootballScoop) November 25, 2017
Opting to retain Lambert sends an awful message to the Charlotte community. There’s no telling what Charlotte’s administration views as attainable goals for their football program but there’s no denying they’re either not being delivered upon or are set entirely too low.
When Charlotte made the abrupt jump to the FBS level they made a commitment to invest in their program at a competitive level. Continuing to trot Lambert out is doing a huge disservice to the fans and student athletes who do not dedicate their time and money to continuously being a bottom feeder in a generally weak conference.
Of course, the flip side of the coin is the outrageous contract extension athletic director Judy Rose signed with Lambert to prevent him from being poached by some hypothetical school chomping at the bit to hire a coach with four wins over FBS opponents to his name.
At a total contract length of nine years following the extension, Lambert still has a staggering four years remaining on his contract. That’s the type of job security that should be offered to coaches like Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, not a former assistant coach at Wake Forest that has not produced any notable success on the field.
There’s no doubt that buying Lambert out of his contract would be costly, perhaps prohibitively so. But what is the cost of keeping him? A quick 15 minute perusal of Twitter and message boards showed me dozens of fans that have already canceled their season ticket renewals or plan to do so. It’s a safe assumption to extrapolate that to the hundreds as few fans actively interact on social media and message boards.
With crowds like these filing into Richardson Stadium each week it’s hard to imagine many sought-after recruits will be willing to sign the dotted line to play for Lambert, a huge hit to a program that already boasts very limited talent in relation to the rest of their conference members.
Each week that goes by continues to put Charlotte further and further behind their peers. The longer the wait, the longer it will take for the 49ers’ next coach to pull them out of the hole that Lambert and Rose have dug for the program.
Let’s hope someone within the university’s administration comes to their senses and puts a stop to this continual slide before talks of shutting the program down or moving to the FCS begin to fester. This program and its supporters simply deserve better.