Saturday’s James Madison-Charlotte 49ers football game at Richardson Stadium won’t be the first time the Dukes’ Everett Withers has coached in his hometown of Charlotte.
Withers, in his first season as head coach at James Madison, has coached games in Charlotte three times, all of them at Bank of America Stadium. Two came as an assistant at North Carolina during bowl games and once as an assistant for the Tennessee Titans against the Carolina Panthers.
“It’s always good to be back in Charlotte and the area,” Withers said. “But I’ve been here before to coach. This one will just have a different feel to it.”
Withers grew up in Charlotte and attended West Charlotte High. He went on to play four seasons at defensive back at Appalachian State before embarking on a coaching career that began in 1988 at Austin Peay. Now, 26 years later, Withers has landed at James Madison, one of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision’s top programs. He replaced the fired Mickey Matthews, who took the Dukes to the FCS title in 2004.
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“People here are very receptive to what we want to do,” said Withers, whose team is 4-3. “If there’s something that’s been working well, we say let’s enhance it and try to make it better. If it’s not working, let’s blow it up and start over. People have been good about that.”
As a new coach at an established program, Withers said he doesn’t view his role much differently from Charlotte coach Brad Lambert, who started a program from scratch when he was hired in 2011.
“We’re still trying to build it the way we want it,” Withers said. “It’s similar to what Brad is doing, building a culture. The only difference is we had infrastructure and a program when we got started and he gets to do his from scratch.”
Withers has been a head coach before, but under strikingly different circumstances. He was North Carolina’s interim head coach in 2011 after Butch Davis was fired, an early episode in what has become a major academic scandal at the school. Withers, who was fired after the 2011 season, was mentioned in a report Wednesday as refusing to be interviewed by investigators about his knowledge of “paper classes” at North Carolina.
After leaving Chapel Hill, Withers spent two seasons as co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State before moving on to James Madison.
“Coach Davis had a good plan in place at UNC and it was easy for me to go in and take over the ship and keep it moving in the right direction,” Withers said. “That helped me in thinking that I knew I wanted to be a head coach again. I had that creative desire to keep doing it.”
Saturday also won’t be the first time Withers has been in the 49ers’ Richardson Stadium. He stopped by a few summers back on a visit home and was given a tour of Charlotte’s facilities by 49ers offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
Withers has faced a Mullen-coached offense before. When North Carolina played West Virginia in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl at Bank of America Stadium, Withers was the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator and Mullen was the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator.
Withers said he expects to have several family members and friends at Saturday’s game (his older sister, Claudia Withers-Martin, was recently named chief operating officer of the NAACP).
“I can’t keep up with that, though,” he said. “Anybody knows that if they want tickets to see our games, they go through my wife (Kara).”