The Charlotte 49ers’ defensive problems over the past two seasons have been well documented. Matt Wallerstedt hopes to fix them.
Wallerstedt, hired as Charlotte’s defensive coordinator last week, has his work cut out: The 49ers defense allowed an average of 479.3 yards and 31.6 points a game in 2014, similar to their inaugural season of 2013. The team went 5-6 both seasons.
Those numbers came against NCAA Football Championship Subdivision and Division II competition. Next season, the 49ers move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision and into Conference USA.
“I know there have been growing pains with the program; that happens when you’re starting one up,” Wallerstedt said. “But we’re going to continue to fight through that and build our depth and hopefully get things done.”
Wallerstedt, 48, said he hasn’t seen film yet of Charlotte’s defense, nor is he familiar with the players on the 49ers defensive unit, which will return nine starters from last season.
But he did say he would make some minor changes from Charlotte’s 3-4 base defense, favored by former defensive coordinator Bruce Tall, who left the 49ers to become West Virginia’s defensive line coach.
“We’ll use multiple fronts in addition to the 3-4,” Wallerstedt said. “We want to run to the football, create turnovers and create some confusion by disguising what we’re doing in the secondary. We want to make those quarterbacks and running backs earn their scholarships.”
Although this will be their first time working together, Wallerstedt and 49ers head coach Brad Lambert have a long history. They were roommates at Kansas State in the 1980s. Wallerstedt has made stops at several schools, spending most of his time at Wyoming (where he was defensive coordinator from 2000-02) and Air Force (defensive coordinator from 2009-11).
Wallerstedt’s 2014 season was eventful. He left Texas Tech, where he was defensive coordinator, after three games and finished the season as a consultant and then outside linebackers coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Wallerstedt said he resigned at Texas Tech because of differing philosophies within the Red Raiders coaching staff. After he left, ESPN.com reported he was suspected of being under the influence of an unknown substance while at the school’s football facility. Wallerstedt denies the report, which cited unnamed sources.
“There was no booze or illegal drugs involved in anything while I was at Tech,” said Wallerstedt. “I received a financial settlement – not as much as I wanted – from the school, which wouldn’t have happened if any of that was true.”
In November, then interim Texas Tech defensive coordinator Mike Smith accused Wallerstedt of giving away the team’s defensive signals to opponents.
“I would never do that; it’s unprofessional and immature,” Wallerstedt said. “I challenged Mike Smith to tell me who his source is and we’ll get on the phone and have a three-way conversation about it. Never heard back from him. This is absurd.”
Said Lambert: “I’m well aware of all that. I called Matt right after it all happened. I’ve known him a long time and he told me there was nothing to it. That’s good enough for me. I trust him.”
Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth also defended Wallerstedt against Smith’s signal-tipping charges.
“I know Matt Wallerstedt. I know his family. I know what he stands for,” Hudspeth told the Lafayette Advertiser. “I am 100 percent confident those allegations aren’t true.”
• Charlotte had hoped to land former Alabama-Birmingham defensive lineman Jontavious Morris and defensive back Rolan Milligan after the Blazers program folded in December. Morris went to Western Michigan and Milligan to Toledo.
• Charlotte received a verbal commitment from Fairfield (S.C.) Central running back Joseph Young, who rushed for 1,367 yards last season. Young would help Charlotte’s depth-shy backfield if he’s not redshirted.
• Lambert said freshman offensive tackle Cameron Clark (Greensboro Smith) has signed and is enrolled. Charlotte expects to sign about 15 players on national signing day in February.
• Spring practice begins March 14, with the spring game scheduled for April 18. Several 49ers players are expected to miss spring practice while recovering from offseason surgery, including linebacker Nico Alcalde (shoulder), long snapper Keaston Sinicki (shoulder), receiver Emmit Afam (knee) and defensive back Terrance Winchester (knee).