I would have given Bobby Lutz one more year.
But I will readily admit that the Charlotte 49ers’ shocking and painful collapse in the past month would make a lot of people think about firing Lutz as Charlotte 49ers’ head coach, as happened today.
I wrote a lighthearted column about Lutz and the good-luck mustache he had re-grown at UNCC students' behest a month ago, back when all was right in Lutz’s world. At the time, the 49ers were 8-2 in the Atlantic 10 and 18-6 overall. They were entering a big three-game homestand. It didn’t seem to be a question of whether they would make the NCAA tournament so much as where they would be seeded. Many tourney projections had them as high as a No.7 or 8 seed.
Little did I know that those 49ers had already begun falling off the cliff.
Charlotte lost its way, lost seven of its final eight games and, now, has lost its coach. In the 49ers’ last game – a conference tournament loss to Massachusetts at Halton Arena – the 49ers drew an embarrassing home attendance of 1,941. At one point, Lutz and his staff put six players on the court, resulting in a crucial technical foul.
Lutz got fired Monday. That’ll be expensive for a university trying to add football and watching its pennies – he was under contract through 2014.
Lutz was much better when the 49ers were in Conference USA, which was easier to recruit into and gave the 49ers some marquee home games. If you know how many teams are actually in the Atlantic 10, you’re a fairly serious college basketball junkie.
Then again, results are what matter when you’re a college basketball coach, no matter where or whom you’re playing. Given that Lutz’s 49ers hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2005 and that the NIT is not even a sure thing any longer, either, I’m sure he knew he was in danger.
Although I would have let Lutz have the 2010-11 season to turn it around and try one last time, I’m sure the 49ers administration would argue that they did that already, after last season’s 11-20 debacle.
This is a tough one. Lutz, athletic director Judy Rose and UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois are all good, smart people. I like all of them. But – barring there is some bombshell out there we don’t know about, and given that this is Bobby Lutz we’re talking about I very much doubt there is – I think Lutz deserved one last shot.
Lutz released a classy statement Monday afternoon that said in part: “Our fans, especially the students who are dear to my heart, have been tremendous and a source of inspiration for me. They deserve the best and that is my hope for them…. Lastly, I've enjoyed the love and support of my family and we have wonderful memories of our times at Charlotte. In closing, it has been a privilege and pleasure to coach at UNC Charlotte, my alma mater. I have been truly blessed and will forever bleed green.”
Although the impact will be felt only regionally instead of nationally in this case, the whole thing reminds me of Jake Delhomme’s recent departure. Delhomme was the face of the Panthers; Lutz the face of the 49ers. Both had some great times, but both had awful final seasons, and both ultimately got fired by the employers they were so loyal to for so long.