The Charlotte 49ers have been an improved football team this season. But not improved enough to save coach Brad Lambert’s job.
Lambert, the only coach the 49ers have had in their program’s six years of existence, was fired Sunday. Lambert, who has a record of 21-48, will coach the final game of the 49ers’ season Saturday at Florida Atlantic. Charlotte is 4-7 and on a three-game losing streak.
“It is a decision I made after an opportunity to assess my first football season here,” 49ers athletics director Mike Hill said in a statement. “It’s about the trajectory of the program and putting us in the best position for the future. We elected to make this decision now so that we could begin the search immediately.”
Lambert, 53, has two years remaining on his contract, which was extended in February 2017 through the 2020 season. The 49ers will pay him a buyout of about $515,000, twice his annual base salary of $256,795.
“I would like to thank Chancellor (Phil) Dubois and (former athletics director) Judy (Rose) for the opportunity they gave me to start this program,” Lambert said in a statement. “I would also like to thank our staff and student-athletes who poured themselves into this program for us. I could not be prouder of all the young men and all that they have accomplished on and off the field.”
A career assistant whose most recent job had been Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator, Lambert came to Charlotte to start the 49ers’ program in 2011. He spent his first two years at Charlotte laying a foundation for the program, which began play in 2013 as an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision independent.
After going 5-6 in each of those FCS seasons, the 49ers quickly moved up to Conference USA and the Football Bowl Subdivision, college football’s highest level, in 2015. The 49ers have gone 11-36 as an FBS team and attendance has lagged at Richardson Stadium.
There was speculation that Lambert would be fired after the 49ers went 1-11 in 2017. But Rose retained Lambert, who made several cultural changes to the program in the offseason (including naming captains for the season and changing meeting and practice schedules). He also hired new coordinators in Shane Montgomery (offense) and Glenn Spencer (defense).
Those changes made a difference. The 49ers showed marked improvement on the field and were still in contention in C-USA’s East Division and to become bowl eligible after starting the season 4-4.
But the three-game losing streak, including a 42-35 loss Saturday at home against Florida International, stalled any momentum Charlotte had.
Lambert leaves Charlotte having never had a winning season.
“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to coach Lambert for the foundation he established, the culture that he built and the student-athletes he brought into our program,” Hill said. “Like many of his players, he took a tremendous leap of faith when he took on the challenge of building our program.
“Our program is on solid ground thanks, in large part, to the love and effort he consistently put into developing our student-athletes.”
David Scott: @dscott14