College Sports

Why Charlotte 49ers believe they found ‘the right guy’ in new football coach Will Healy

Tyriq Harris liked what he heard and saw from new Charlotte 49ers football coach Will Healy on Wednesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, before Healy’s introductory news conference on the concourse of Richardson Stadium, Harris and his teammates got their first taste of what life might be like in a meeting with the Healy, whose youth, energy and enthusiasm were among the main reasons athletics director Mike Hill chose him to take over the program.

“He was awesome,” said Harris, a junior defensive end. “There was a lot of intensity. A lot of juice. He was just really focused and locked in. He knows how to win and what it takes to win. It really got us going.”

Healy, 33, takes over the Charlotte program from Brad Lambert, the only other coach the program has known and who was fired after going 22-48 in the 49ers’ six seasons of existence.

New Charlotte 49ers football coach Will Healy reacts while answering a question during his introductory news conference at Richardson Stadium on Wednesday. David T. Foster III

After turning around the Football Championship Subdivision’s Austin Peay in his only three seasons as a head coach, Healy said he’s ready to get started at Charlotte.

“My job is to make sure this program has the opportunity to take the next step,” said Healy. “It’s been a job for me that always felt like is solid gold. It has the ability to be one of the top programs in college football.”

Healy liked what he saw in that players meeting. It included 12 returning starters from a team that went 5-7 last season, an improvement from the 1-11 performance from 2017.

“These guys know how to win football games,” Healy said. “The talent here is really good. The foundation has been built. They were competitive in their conference. There was adversity that they went through, for them to improve from how they did from last year to this year.

“They’ve gone from ‘hope to win’ to ‘expect to win.’ That’s the foundation for us to take the next step and to do that in a hurry.”

Healy said he will first focus on hiring his staff. He planned on meeting individually with the current 49ers assistant coaches (they were retained after Lambert was fired) on Thursday.

Then he will start recruiting in Charlotte later in the day. He’ll go to a high school football game (he wouldn’t say which one) Friday night. Saturday will be spent house hunting with his wife Emily and son Eli, 4. Then he’ll hit the road for more recruiting, probably in Georgia.

First-year Charlotte 49ers athletics director Mike Hill, left, and new football coach Will Healy pose for a portrait during Healy’s introductory news conference at Richardson Stadium on Wednesday. Healy spent the past three seasons as head coach at Austin Peay. David T. Foster III

Healy is known as being an outstanding recruiter. After his first Austin Peay team went 0-11 in 2015, he brought in a new crop of players that helped the Governors improve to 8-4 a year later.

“For me, the relationship piece is really important,” said Healy, who will run a spread-option offense and 4-2-5 defense. “I want to fight big-time battles in recruiting. If you win in recruiting, you probably win on the field. Really good players make really good coaches.

“We want to take some guys who are interested in having a different kind of experience at Charlotte. We made a living on that (at Austin Peay). We went 0-11 and were able to sell a vision and future and culture. There’s more to life than football; you’ll have a great type of experience as a student-athlete here. If you add the resources we have, that’s a pretty deadly combo.”

That was the kind of philosophy and intensity Hill, who is in his first year at Charlotte, was looking for.

“Will reflects our program and our institution,” said Hill. “He’s a young, hungry, up-and-comer and a force who will need to be reckoned with.”

Hill said Healy signed a five-year contract worth $700,000 per year plus incentives.

Healy’s charisma and aggressiveness was apparent during his news conference. He might have what is called “it.”

“ ‘It’ has no age,” said Chris Fuller, Charlotte’s deputy athletics director for external affairs who played a key part in finding and hiring Healy.

Hill said he knew there might be some skepticism about hiring a 33-year-old whose only head-coaching experience is three years at the FCS level.

“People are sometimes scared to make a hire,” said Hill. “It’s a little like coaches playing not to lose. That doesn’t win championships.

“We’re going to run this program here with fearlessness. We’re going to be fearless in our decision-making. Our institutional courage will be to go with our instincts. He’s the right guy.”

David Scott: @davidscott14 on Twitter