Charlotte 49ers Football Head Coach Options

by Oct 24, 2022Football

Photo credit: Matthew Hinton, Associate Press

Mike Hill has confirmed that Charlotte will indeed use a search firm to help assist with the process, though they have not yet selected one. My guess is TurnkeyZRG, that is the firm that UNC Charlotte used when replacing Judy Rose with Mike Hill.

When looking at the majority of Mike Hill hires at Charlotte, the commonality across those are young, up-and-coming types. That said, it’s not lost on my end that he first tried to hire a proven coach in Mike Houston, then pivoted to Will Healy. Healy fits the young up-and-coming type, he also had head coaching experience at Austin Peay. Does that mean coordinators are off the table? Of course not, but I think we’re in a situation where we are less likely in need of someone that is going to need to learn-on-the-job.

What makes me say that? The move up to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) is one factor, and the need for Mike Hill to get this right for his career here is another. Chancellor Sharon Gaber did not hire Mike Hill, who is under contract until June 30th, 2025. Hill has a buyout, which equates to his base pay that is left for the remainder of that agreement (current base is $300,000 per year). With Ron Sanchez’s program struggling to gain traction, and the firing of Will Healy, Hill needs to right the ship over at Jerry Richardson Stadium, which makes me lean heavily to a head coach that has been there, done that.

This is not to discount Hill’s efforts in other areas: fundraising (but Evergreen has been quiet since the announcement), rebrand to the All-In-C, moving up to the AAC, turnarounds in other sports such as Baseball & Softball, etc. But Football and Men’s Basketball drive the bus, and our top two revenue programs haven’t lived up to the #GoldStandard.

If Charlotte wants to maximize the candidate pool, the administration needs to have a definitive timeline for the expansion of the stadium to 30,000 seats to sell to prospective candidates (learn about these plans, and check out the visuals here). Facility-is the bones are there, but we’re beyond that point now. We’re no longer a startup and potential won’t take us any further than where we are going. We need to have the facilities upgrades for Football in place as soon as possible, and the resources to compete, or the move to the AAC will be an uphill battle.

To be clear, these are names that I have on my radar. This is not a list based on any sort of inside information. This staff runs a really tight operation and I don’t expect many leaks. The leaks last time likely came from Houston, as that was the only person that could potentially benefit from such an action. That’s generally how those work.

Free Agents

Justin Fuente
Fuente was fired after last season at Virginia Tech, where he went 43-31 over 6 years, and 28-20 in the ACC. Prior to that Fuente rebuilt a struggling Memphis program, where in years 1 and 2 he went 7-17, the went 19-6 in the next 2 seasons (last 3 seasons were in the AAC). Fuente is a candidate I could see potentially getting a lower-level P5 job, but should have his pick of G5 openings if interested.

Skip Holtz
Holtz is a well-known commodity in the Carolina’s and in college football. Fired after a down year at Louisiana Tech in 2021, Holtz led the Birmingham team in the USFL to the championship. He’s been a head coach sine 1994, there would be no learning on the job here. I think Holtz would be a safe hire, who is quite familiar with the program here as his son is an assistant here, and his daughter was recently on staff as well before venturing to the Seattle Seahawks.

Tom Herman
Another name on the list that had major success in the AAC. While leading the Houston Cougars his teams went 13-1 and 9-3, before getting hired away by the Texas Longhorns, where he went 32-18. Herman’s been out of college coaching for 2 seasons now and is currently working with CBS Sports. He spent 2021 as an analyst with the Chicago Bears. He’s a candidate I can see holding out for a Power 5 gig, but he is also 2 years removed from coaching in college, so you never know.

Dan Mullen
Currently a TV analyst for ABC, Mullen was let go by the Florida Gators last year. Prior to his time at the swamp, Mullen was the HC for Mississippi State. During his 13 year head coaching career he’s 103-61. Hill’s Florida ties would likely give great insight into Mullen, but with his pedigree I could see him holding out for a Power 5 vacancy.

Bill Clark
Program builder extraordinaire who stepped away from UAB prior to this season due to health issues, but he made it seem that he wasn’t opposed to coaching again. Took a program that was DOA and just flourished in Birmingham. Certainly worth a call to see how his health is..

Bronco Mendenhall’s name has been thrown around by some fans, but his comments in this article tell me he’s Power 5 or bust.

Active Head Coaches

Jason Candle
He’s been at Toledo in one capacity or another since 2009, and has been the HC since 2016. You have to mention that new Charlotte Chancellor Sharon Gaber came from Toledo, so there is certainly some familiarity from that standpoint. Candle is still a young guy at only 42 years old, but he has the experience you’d like to see from his time at Toledo, where he succeeded Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. Current salary is $1.2m, but his buyout is only $450,000. Charlotte should be able to provide more resources for his assistant pool.

Sean Lewis
Lewis is known as an offensive guru, is now in his fifth season Kent State. The overall record is going to give you immediate pause, 22-29. The first year was rough at 2-10, but when you look at their schedule, outside of COVID season they are play 3 Power 5 buy games per year. After year 1, he’s 16-8 in the MAC. A Georgia Tech site reports his buyout is now zero, but Chris Vannini tweeted after his new deal the buyout is $800k.

Tyson Helton
Currently at WKU. His buyout is $1.4m, once I read that I realized this likely isn’t going to work out.

Curt Cignetti
He was a name some fans mentioned during the last hiring cycle, but after Houston jumped ship. He’s been a winning coach at all his stops and has JMU rolling in season 1 of the Sun Belt. Under contract until 2027, can’t really find any contract details. No doubt he’d be a long shot.

Jamey Chadwell
Another Sun Belt coach here, and another one I think would be a long shot, however with Grayson McCall leaving after this year it could be a great time to finally get out of Conway, SC for a bigger payday. Buyout could be the hurdle here with his contract running through 2027, if he left before December 20, 2021 he would have owed Coastal $1.15m, so I imagine that’s dropped and likely less than $1m now.

Clay Helton
In his first year at Georgia Southern, Helton has his team 5-3 with a victory over ranked JMU and Nebraska. His annually salary is around $800k, but I can’t find any buyout terms online for his agreement. Previously Helton was the head coach of the USC Trojans, where his teams went 46-24.

If Fired

Scott Satterfield
Currently at Louisville and it seems his job status is extremely fluid. Clearly his time at Louisville has lacked consistency (22-22 overall) and the flirtation with South Carolina vacancy tainted the waters. Satterfield followed Appalachain State legendary coach Jerry Moore and led the Mountaineers from the Southern Conference to the Sun Belt. All-in-all his App teams went 51-24 (38-10). Should he become available I’d imagine Charlotte’s interest would be high.

Neal Brown
Brown’s WVU squad is currently 3-4 (1-3) and appears he’ll be out of Morganton at seasons end. While making 2 bowls at WVU, he’s not been able to replicate his success from his previous stop at Troy where he turned the Trojans around, going 35-16 (23-9) in 4 seasons. Before taking over Troy the Trojans had not been above .500 the previous 4 seasons.

Bryan Harsin
Currently at Auburn, where it seems they tried to seemingly railroad him after one season (6-7). The Tigers are now 3-4 (1-3), and with a new AD coming into The Plains, it’s hard to see Harsin getting year 3. Auburn loves them some buyouts. Prior to Auburn he got his coaching start in 2013 Arkansas State, succeeded Gus Malzhan (who replaced Hugh Freeze) and led the Red Wolves to a 7-5 record and a GoDaddy Bowl appearance, but left before the bowl game to head to Boise State. He spent 7 seasons with the Broncos, going 69-19, not missing a beat taking over the reigns of Chris Peterson.

Coordinators/Assistants

I’m not going in-depth here on each candidate, and honestly this list could likely triple in length if I spent much longer on it. An assistant or coordinator could be the guy, but I have doubts based on our overall program and department needs.

Alex Atkins, Florida State Offensive Coordinator + Offensive Line Coach. Obviously has Charlotte ties, as he called the offense here in 2019 when the Niners got hot and bowled.

Doug Belk, Houston Associate Head Coach + Defensive Coordinator

Brian Hartline, Ohio State Passing Game Coordinator + Wide Receivers Coach, hailed as the top recruiter in all of CFB

Pete Lembo, South Carolina Associate Head Coach + Special Teams Coordinator, prior HC experience at Lehigh, Elon and Ball State with a career record of 112-65.

Jerry Mack, Tennessee Running Back Coach (former HC at NCCU with 31-15 record)

What do you think?

Let me know on Twitter or Discord who you feel should be a candidate. For those not yet on Discord, we have a channel dedicated to the Coaching Carousel. It’s always a fun time and flight tracker season is about to ramp up!

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