“Do I regret playing? Hell no, I don’t regret playing. These guys had five opportunities to go and play football. We’ve had plenty cancelled and our fair share of adversity, but we have grown men in the locker room that have learned a lot about themselves. They are better for the adversity that they have faced.”
Charlotte head coach Will Healy lacked no passion following the fifth consecutive cancellation for the 49ers. With eight total games displaced, four of which on Charlotte’s end and four coming from opposing programs, the 49ers have been part of nearly 7% of college football’s cancellations in 2020.
“I understand how sensitive this is. What does football mean in the grand scheme of things compared to the health and safety of our players? I understand all of those, ‘why would you put these guys at risk.’” Healy said.
“These guys need this. These guys need each other.”
It has been over a month since the 49ers have padded up and played a game. Following a two weeks of virtual meetings with no practice, the 49ers were faced with only three days of in-person practice before the now-cancelled Tuesday morning matchup with Western Kentucky, and then just four days until a rescheduled contest with Florida International.
With the game against a winless FIU team off the table, Charlotte now looks ahead to Sunday, yes that says Sunday, for the third attempt at a matchup with Western Kentucky.
“It’s hard to stomach the opportunities that we’ve lost, but at the same time we have to keep reminding ourselves why we do this,” 49ers’ Athletic Director Mike Hill said. “If our guys didn’t want to play so badly and weren’t fighting their rear-ends off trying to play, it would be a different conversation.”
As unrealistic as it seems having only played five total games and three conference games, the 49ers are still very-much alive in the hunt for C-USA’s East division crown. While the conference works to solve the Rubik’s Cube that is 2020, Mike Hill made it very clear on where Charlotte stands.
“We would love to play Marshall, there’s no question about that.”
The Thundering Herd sit atop C-USA with an undeniable 7-0 record and a dominant defense led by former 49ers’ head coach Brad Lambert. The only available date left before the C-USA championship is Saturday, December 12th.
While the 49ers would need to win out to put themselves in position to play for the C-USA title, they would also need Florida Atlantic to fall to Southern Miss in the final week of the regular season. Charlotte was just nine yards away from beating FAU following a third-quarter collapse early in the season.
RUMOR HAS IT
While Will Healy’s name swirls around the coaching carousel, Mike Hill knows one thing for sure.
“I hope every year we are in a situation like this. When we have a head football coach who is coveted, that means we are having success. Will should be coveted every single year. He handles things the right way and he cares about his young men first, and that’s what matters most.”
During the offseason, Healy signed a two-year contract extension through 2026, including a raise of $55,000 for an annual salary of $755,000. The 35-year-old head coach has a 9-9 overall record with the 49ers.
Jimmy Sexton, Healy’s agent, represents 11 of the 14 coaches in the SEC, and seven NFL head coaches. Healy’s name has been tied to the Vanderbilt role, one that flatters him, but one that for now is just a rumor.
Healy, a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, has a rare feat in his deal with the 49ers. If his contract is bought out and he does leave Charlotte before his contract expires in 2026, he must reimburse Charlotte the $631,250 if he departs in the first year, or $505,000 at any point in the remaining contract. The 49ers would also secure a home-and-home series with the FBS program of which Healy signed with.
Having a successful first season with the program built the resilience that this locker room displays today. Securing the first winning season and bowl appearance, introducing Club Lit, and injecting a family culture has worked wonders in terms of keeping the players locked in through what has been the most unique year to date.
While the players and staff aren’t pleased with being out for five consecutive weeks of action, the overall health of the team comes first.
“We’ve had plenty of players and plenty of staff who have tested positive. We have been very fortunate with the symptoms of all of those people. The worst have been flu-like symptoms. We’ve had a lot of common cold-like symptoms, and some with no symptoms.”
Looking ahead to Sunday, the 49ers will continue to stay positive, and hope to test negative. Western Kentucky has played twice as many games as Charlotte and has won two-consecutive for the first time all season.
Before the Appalachian State game back in September, Healy said that the first time he felt like a football coach was when they were on the bus to Boone. At this point it’s got to be the opening kickoff. With just two weeks left in the regular season, it’s now or never.
This program is in good hands. While it can be extremely frustrating that they aren’t getting the opportunities that some of these other programs across the nation are, they are following the protocols and doing everything in their power to keep these student athletes safe.
While the option to return for another season is on the table, the collegiate careers of some of the most influential players in the 49ers’ existence could be coming to a close. I’m hoping they get at least one more time to strap it up in the green and gold.