In what can only be described as a stunning move made nine games into the season, the Charlotte 49ers fired men’s basketball coach Mark Price on Thursday.
Price, 53, had a 30-42 record in two-plus seasons at Charlotte, including 3-6 this season. Price signed a five-year contract worth $500,000 per year when he was hired to replace Alan Major in April 2015. Charlotte still owes Price the balance of that deal.
Assistant coach Houston Fancher, a former head coach at Appalachian State, will take over as interim head coach. Later Thursday, the Observer learned that 49ers senior guard Hudson Price, the team’s leading rebounder and 3-point shooter and Mark Price’s son, had begun the process of seeking his release from the program.
“We’re trending in the wrong direction,” 49ers athletics director Judy Rose told the Observer. “Our record shouldn’t be our record against the competition we’re playing. But where we are in our season, we can get back on track.”
The 49ers have lost four consecutive games and play again Monday at East Carolina.
“I’m still stunned, to be honest,” Price told the Observer. “I was called in (Thursday) morning and was told they were going to make a change.
“They said they didn’t like the direction of the program was taking and that I might have lost some of my players, which I don’t agree with. But we didn’t get quite as many wins as people wanted. That’s the reality of the business.
Price was hired to rebuild Charlotte’s program in 2015 after Alan Major’s five-year tenure.
“It wasn’t a long conversation. I obviously wasn’t their guy. It was their decision to use an awfully quick hook. But that’s the way it goes.”
Rose said she didn’t see the 49ers playing hard for Price, particularly in a 64-50 defeat at Chattanooga on Sunday, when Charlotte managed just two offensive rebounds
“We haven’t come out ready to play,” Rose said. “That’s why I say he’s lost his players. How can we come out playing like that? I don’t think the players are playing to the top of their capabilities. We didn’t see a lot of passion on the floor for us to get back on the right direction.”
Price came to the 49ers from the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, where he was the team’s shooting coach. One of the top point guards in ACC (Georgia Tech) and NBA history, Price had no significant head coaching experience when he was hired by the 49ers to rebuild the program after Charlotte parted ways with Major after five seasons.
It wasn’t a long conversation. I obviously wasn’t their guy. It was their decision to use an awfully quick hook. But that’s the way it goes.
“I came into a tough situation here,” Price said. “But I felt good about the progress we’d made. Everybody wants to win and win right away. I understand all that about production and wins and losses.”
After going 14-19 and 13-17 in Price’s first two seasons, the 49ers were expected to be better this season, particularly with a talented and veteran backcourt led by juniors Jon Davis and Andrien White and senior Hudson Price.
But the 49ers have underperformed so far, and lost their fourth consecutive game on Sunday at Chattanooga.
After the 49ers lost last week to Wake Forest, Price said some of his veteran players weren’t playing up to their potential.
“That’s baffling,” Price said after the game.
Price appeared to have Rose’s support as recently as a Nov. 29 interview with the Observer, saying she hired Price to reenergize a program that had been hit hard by transfers under Major and to help stop a steady slide in attendance.
“We hired Mark Price to hopefully get that changed,” Rose said. “He’s a name person who has played and competed at the highest level in the pros. He came in without ever being given a chance, with some players electing to leave the program. It was starting over for him.”
Price’s firing comes two weeks after the 49ers said they would retain football coach Brad Lambert, whose team recently completed a 1-11 season. After announcing that decision, Rose told the Observer that the football team’s record by itself didn’t warrant a coaching change.
“I would never do that in any sport and in any situation, where I will say you’ve got win this number of games,” Rose said. “You’ve got to look at the body of work. We don’t react to every situation as ‘this is the one time this happened.’”
Some 49ers fans have publicly voiced their displeasure recently over the direction the school’s athletic department is headed, particularly in football and men’s basketball.
At recent basketball games, fans have held up banners calling for Rose to be fired. Price said the atmosphere surrounding the athletics department was noticeable to him and the basketball team.
30-42 Price’s record in two-plus seasons at Charlotte
“It definitely had an effect,” Price said. “We could feel it. It’s a tough environment. Our players see things, hear things that are going on. It didn’t help us, let me put it that way. It was something we couldn’t control, so we tried to do better and minimize it.
“But it would be silly to say it didn’t have any effect on our program.”
Before Hudson Price started the process to secure his release from Charlotte, Mark Price said he didn’t know what his son’s future with the team might be.
“Hudson will have to make his own choices,” Price said. “I’ll talk to him. It’s going to be tough, I’m sure, for him to be at a place that just fired his dad.”
Also, Price’s daughter Caroline is an assistant women’s tennis coach at Charlotte.
Fancher, 51, a former head coach at North Greenville and Appalachian State, was Price’s first hire at Charlotte. He has a 181-177 record as a head coach, including 137-136 in nine seasons at Appalachian, where his Mountaineers teams won tied or won three Southern Conference divisional titles. Under Fancher, Appalachian won a school-record 25 games in 2006-07 and went to the National Invitation Tournament.
After the Mountaineers went 13-18 in 2008-09, Fancher left Appalachian State (the school said he resigned but he was paid through the end of the 2009-10 season). He spent two seasons as director of basketball operations at Tennessee and was an assistant for one season at UNC Wilmington before going to Charlotte.
Rose said Fancher will coach through the end of the season and then be evaluated.
David Scott: @davidscott14