As the old saying goes, “Beware the Ides of March.” Earlier this morning, UNC Charlotte fired its head basketball coach, Bobby Lutz, after the 49ers failed to make the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season.
Lutz was Charlotte’s golden boy. He was a freshman guard on the school’s 1977 Final Four team, and turned down the Gardner-Webb head coaching job in 1995 to return to his alma mater as an assistant coach to Jeff Mullins. Lutz was rewarded in 1998, when he became the school’s head coach.
The 49ers thrived under Lutz as a member of Conference-USA, reaching the NCAA tournament in five of seven years before the team relocated to the Atlantic-10.
In spite of the fact that Charlotte essentially lost their NCAA tournament berth at the end of the season after dropping seven of their final eight, I still can’t fully understand this move. Coach Lutz was loved by the students whether the 49ers won or lost. In my four and a half years on campus, I never heard anyone say anything negative about our head coach.
In addition to coaching the men’s basketball team, Lutz taught a summer class for the American Studies department about the impact of sports in America. I was lucky enough to take his class once, and he was always friendly and you looked forward to seeing him at 9:30 in the morning, even if it was in June and you’d normally be sleeping in. There was just something about his personality that made you feel like an individual.
Not only was the move unexpected, it doesn’t exactly come at the best time to hire a new coach. I spoke to a graduating senior at UNCC and she said, “Bobby was a great coach. I don’t think any top-talent coach would be interested in coaching our team.”
The Atlantic-10 is growing in respect as a power conference (receiving three NCAA tournament bids the last three seasons), but it’s still seen largely as a stepping stone to bigger programs. The next UNCC head coach will more than likely use the program for this very purpose.
Coach Lutz at least had loyalty to the program. In 2005, he was one of the top candidates to become the next head coach at Tennessee, a major collegiate program, but turned down the opportunity because nothing mattered more to him than leading his alma mater and the support of the 49er fans.
Lutz leaves Charlotte with a school-record 218 wins.