Mike Hill’s first act as Charlotte 49ers athletics director came swiftly and dramatically, when he said Tuesday he had fired interim men’s basketball coach Houston Fancher and his staff.
Hill, who doesn’t officially start in his new job until March 15, said Tuesday he met with Fancher and the basketball staff Monday and told them of their fate.
Fancher, a former Southern Conference Coach of the Year at Appalachian State, took over the 49ers’ head coaching job on an interim basis in December when Mark Price was fired after Charlotte started the season with a 3-6 record. The 49ers couldn’t gain traction under Fancher, losing 15 games in a row at one point and finishing 6-23.
The 49ers, who haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2005, also didn’t qualify for this week’s Conference USA tournament.
Mike Hill’s first act as 49ers’ athletics director was to fire interim men’s basketball coach Houston Fancher.
“I felt the need to hit the reset button on the program,” said Hill, who made the basketball announcement during his introductory news conference Tuesday afternoon at Halton Arena. “This program has been in a little bit of turmoil this last little bit. The overall state of the program is we’re not very successful. The program should be competing for conference championships and bids for the NCAA tournament. That’s the expectation and we’re not very close to that.”
Fancher conceded numerous times over the course of the season that the 49ers’ record would work against him being retained.
“We’re going to coach like it’s our job right now and that’s all,” Fancher told the Observer in December, when asked if he wanted the job permanently. “We’re going to coach to win the next game and to make these kids better. I know that sounds blowoff-ish, but I sincerely want to do what’s best for these kids right now.”
I felt the need to hit the reset button on the (basketball) program.
Incoming Charlotte 49ers athletics director Mike Hill.
Hill said he spoke with each 49ers player on the phone after talking to the coaches. He said Fancher would remain on staff until a replacement is hired. One of Fancher’s roles before he leaves Charlotte will be to counsel current 49ers players, any of whom might consider transferring because of the coaching change.
Three high school players - guards Cooper Robb and Isaiah Bigelow and forward Dravon Mangum – have already signed letters-of-intent with the 49ers. They are bound to Charlotte unless the 49ers grant them releases.
Hill said he had no timetable for hiring a new coach, although he said having one in place by the Final Four (March 31, April 2) would be preferable.
“I’ll be looking for a coach with integrity and high character, someone who commands respect from student-athletes and from around the country,” Hill said. “He needs to be a great recruiter who can teach. He may be an up-and-comer or he may come in the form of a head coach. But I’m not dialed into one characteristic.”
.171 Combined winning percentage of Charlotte’s men’s basketball and football teams for the 2017-18 season, second lowest among schools in FBS conferences.
Hill’s basketball coaching announcement came during a Q&A session with the media after he was welcomed by UNC Charlotte chancellor Phil Dubois to a room full of 49ers staff and supporters.
Hill, 49, comes to Charlotte after working 25 years as an athletics administrator at Florida, most recently executive associate athletics director for external affairs. He spoke Tuesday of growing up in Clemson, S.C., where he was bitten by the college sports bug while attending Tigers athletic events of all kinds. He attended college at North Carolina - earning a degree in political science and communications - and said that while serving as a student assistant in the sports information office, he had to be thrown out of the Smith Center on several occasions for working too long and too late.
He has several family members who live in Charlotte. Hill remembers watching the Final Four on television at his grandparents’ house on Commonwealth Avenue in 1977, when the 49ers’lost to Marquette in a heartbreaking semifinal game in Atlanta.
He has a vacation home in Blowing Rock and counts Concord’s Avett Brothers as his favorite band. He’s seen them in concert 16 times and knows band member Seth Avett is a UNC Charlotte alum.
“This is personal for me,” Hill said. “This is home.”
This also a huge challenge for Hill, who said he will meet quickly with Dubois after he begins work officially and also become familiar with the athletics department’s financial budget.
He takes over an athletics department with two main sports – football (1-11) and men’s basketball (6-23) – that combined for a 7-34 record (a .171 winning percentage) during the 2017-18 season. Only San Jose State (.142, 6-36 through Tuesday) has a lower combined football-basketball percentage among schools that play in the 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences.
“The priority is the basketball search,” said Hill “We have to dive into this. It’s a great job and I’ve had numerous people contact me already.
“But a listening tour (around campus) is also a big part of it. It’s not just shaking hands, but paying attention to people’s concerns, what they feel about this place as an institution.”
David Scott: @davidscott14