The Charlotte 49ers made some noise earlier this year and even appeared in our Mid-Major Madness Power 15 when they started the season 6-1 and beat Kansas State, Northeastern, and Michigan to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. Since then the 49ers have seemingly been stuck in neutral and yesterday they lost their third straight game at the hands of Marshall and moved to 5-6 in Conference USA play.
Charlotte made the switch back from the Atlantic 10 to Conference USA this year to support the school's new football program, but Charlotte has always been a proud basketball program. In twelve years at Charlotte Bobby Lutz took the 49ers to the NCAA Tournament five times and averaged over 19 wins per year. Enter Alan Major who won 10, 13, and 21 games in his first three years at the helm. Major was rewarded for his 21-win season with a three-year extension from Charlotte Athletic Director Judy Rose, an extension that Charlotte Observer columnist Tom Sorenson disagrees with and he's persuaded me to agree with his view.
Sorenson's opinion on the 49ers 21-win season last year is pretty simple:
Major won 10, 13 and 21 games his first three seasons. But he won 21 with a non-conference schedule so soft it could have been designed by ESPN commentator Seth Greenberg when he coached at Virginia Tech.
The schedule Sorenson references featured only two Top 100 teams according to Ken Pomeroy in Miami and Davidson, and also included seven schools outside of the Top 200 including Lamar and Kennesaw State who were among the nation's worst.
I think this speaks more to coaches getting rewarded for what appears to be one good season and which also appears to be a facade. I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of Charlotte basketball or Alan Major's contract situation, but it does seem athletic directors around the country have itchy fingers to penalize or reward their head coaches.
The situation becomes even more frustrating when you think back to this spring and the fact that current 49ers assistant Ryan Odom's name came up in several coaching searches including Longwood and Campbell to name a few. Odom may be a fine coach, but it seems as if his name became popular for two reasons: one, the 49ers 21-win season a year ago, and two, the fact Odom's dad, former Wake Forest and South Carolina head coach Dave Odom, is the senior consultant College Sports Associates. It's just troublesome that a facade of a good year can propel not only a head coach but his assistants.
Sorenson also makes the point that when Lutz was getting things done in the 49ers previous stint in Conference USA they had to contend with the likes of Memphis, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Now Conference USA is a place where Southern Miss, UTEP, and Louisiana Tech are setting the pace.
He also recognizes that the primary driver will continue to be alumni participation and it seems as if the drive to campus is getting longer and longer for some of those alums.
Perhaps this is much to do about nothing and key transfers Bernard Sullivan and Braxton Ogbueze will bolster the program. Or maybe the 49ers are now handcuffed longer than they would like to be with a unwarranted extension last offseason.