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Opinion: Poggi hire shows that Charlotte is willing to swing for fences

As Charlotte prepares for the future, the hire of Biff Poggi shows a program willing to swing for fences.

University of Georgia vs University of Michigan, 2021 Orange Bowl Set Number: X163896 TK1

Normally, there are two ways you can go with a head coach hire in college football.

You can go for the offensive play-caller or position coach who coached a position group to experience. They may not be the oldest, but they often make up for it by being bright football minds. This is your Lincoln Riley’s or, for the Group of Five fans, Rhett Lashlee at SMU.

Or you can go the complete opposite and hire a CEO-type. What the CEOs lack in innovation they make up for in player management and ability to fundraise for the program. Think Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who lets his offensive coordinator run the offense, and the same with his defensive coordinator.

Oftentimes, your CEO head coach comes with experience as a college football head coach. That experience allows them to manage the program and let the coordinators run their respective units.

In the case of Charlotte, they’re going for a CEO head coach.

On Tuesday, Charlotte named Michigan associate HC Biff Poggi as their next head coach.

Hiring Poggi comes with some inherent risks. Outside of being considered Jim Harbaugh’s right-hand man, Poggi’s experience in the college ranks is limited. He’s never been a college football head coach and, outside of early coaching stints at Brown, Temple, and The Citadel has spent much of his time coaching high school football in Baltimore.

Don’t get it twisted though, Poggi is a dang good coach. He won 13 state championships in 19 years at Gilman High School. After, he invested a significant amount of his own money into the St. Frances Academy program, helping the program become a hotbed for football talent like Michigan running back Blake Corum. Then, he moved to Michigan and was largely credited with helping turn around the Wolverines to lead them to a College Football Playoff birth last season.

By all accounts, Charlotte is taking a risk with their next head coach hire. Instead of going with a safer hire, they’re swinging for the fences, and, by all accounts, they needed to try and hit a home run.

Will Healy’s tenure at Charlotte wasn’t a failure, even if his record says that it was. Over four seasons, Healy was 15-24 in charge of the 49ers. He peaked in the beginning, going to a bowl game in 2019 but was unable to get to those same heights later on.

Off the field, Healy tried everything in his power to build Charlotte into a powerful FBS program. Through fundraising and marketing, he tried everything to get Charlotte on the map but, again, fell short of doing what he strived to do.

It’s not entirely his fault, though. Healy had lofty expectations, but Charlotte’s facilities, and spending power, were not at the same level as the program’s around them.

Locally, Charlotte was getting outspent by other Group of Five programs around them. According to the Syracuse Knight-Newhouse college finances database, Charlotte spent $9.52 million on facilities and equipment in 2021.

Appalachian State, whose campus sits about 100 miles north of Charlotte, spent $10.61 million on facilities and equipment despite having an undergraduate size of almost 6,000 fewer students. Despite bringing in more revenue than App State ($37.41M for Charlotte, and $33.2M for App State), the two spent about the same amount in coaching compensation, with Charlotte spending just $550,000 more on their coaches.

While Charlotte will likely make, and spend more, in the coming years with their move to the American Athletic Conference, they were also getting left behind compared to some of the other programs moving up with them.

Florida Atlantic, who will move up with Charlotte, spent $10.37 million on its facilities and equipment in 2021 and $450,000 more on compensation for its coaches. Joining both of them is UTSA. Despite making less in revenue than both, spent $6.49 million on coaching compensation, a figure that’s just $300,000 less than Charlotte.

At 62 years old, Poggi’s time as Charlotte’s head coach is likely limited, which makes this hire a potential risk. Hiring bridge coaches can go wrong if the coach to replace them isn’t up to a similar level.

Poggi, though, will have the opportunity to do what he does best. As Harbaugh explains, Poggi was a critical part of the success at Michigan.

An article from The Athletic detailed Poggi’s role inside Michigan’s facilities. He wasn’t building the next great scheme but he was managing the assistants and serving as a voice for Harbaugh.

“Biff has been a tremendous asset to our University of Michigan Football program, providing support and mentorship to our coaching staff and players,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by Charlotte. He has a great football mind, knows how to prepare a team during the week and on game day, and is a coach that aims to change the lives of his players in a positive way. Biff is a trusted agent and known friend, and I know that his leadership and ability to develop a team-first culture will be a huge asset to the Charlotte 49ers.”

That experience, along with his program-building past in high school, signals exactly what Charlotte needs: a CEO capable of building a program and raising the image of a football program in desperate need of it.