What should be a very interesting offseason for the Charlotte 49ers’ basketball program is under way.
After losing in the first round of the Conference USA tournament to Middle Tennessee State Wednesday, the wait is on to see what the future of coach Alan Major might be.
And, as has become an annual occurrence with the 49ers, a player has decided to transfer from the program. The Fayetteville Observer is reporting that redshirt junior center Mike Thorne will graduate from UNC Charlotte this spring, then leave to play elsewhere next season as a graduate student.
Major’s status remains uncertain, as he remains on an indefinite medical leave that began Jan. 6. Major has undergone a fitness regimen that he hopes will bolster his health (he wasn’t ready to return to coaching after undergoing procedures on his eyes and heart last summer during a first medical leave) and has been a regular presence in the basketball office.
At some point in the near future, an announcement on Major will come. It might be that his leave is over and he will return to the job.
But in an interview with the Observer in January, athletics director Judy Rose said her postseason evaluation of the basketball program would be “complex,” mostly because of Major’s health concerns. Rose, who has been at the C-USA tournament in Birmingham, Ala., has not been available to comment since the season ended. Major has declined comment.
A clause in Major’s contract (which has three years remaining and pays him $465,000 annually) states he can be terminated if he is unable to perform his duties because of illness for a period of 90 consecutive days.
The 49ers finished 14-18 and missed the postseason for the fourth time in Major’s five seasons (associate coach Ryan Odom is serving as interim head coach during Major’s leave). The 49ers haven’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2005.
Any evaluation of Major must also include continued player attrition, which apparently includes Thorne. Three players left after last season (guard Denzel Ingram and forward Marcus Bryan transferred, Shawn Lester left for personal reasons). Forwards Darion Clark and E. Victor Nickerson transferred before the 2013-14 season. Several others also left in previous seasons. Transferring has increased nationally in the past several seasons, and current 49ers players such as guard Braxton Ogbueze (Florida) and forward Bernard Sullivan (Clemson) came from other schools.
And the 49ers’ struggles played a part in dwindling attendance in recent years. Despite Charlotte hiring an outside ticket-selling agency, crowds at Halton Arena this season averaged 4,376, by far the lowest in the building’s history. The attendance decline isn’t necessarily a problem that’s exclusive to 49ers basketball. Attendance is down throughout college basketball. Also, in just its second season of existence, the 49ers’ football program saw attendance fall in 2014.
If Major is healthy, his best chance for staying at Charlotte is if Rose doesn’t hold this team’s performance against him. After all, he wasn’t on the sideline during most of the season.
And he’s also protected by the three years remaining on his contract that was extended in 2013. The 49ers have only recently finished paying former coach Bobby Lutz after he was fired in 2010 with three years remaining on a deal that also been extended.
Would Rose want to go through the same thing again? We’ll likely soon find out.
49ers under Major
11-20 (2-14 A 10)
17-14 (7-9 C-USA)
*Major missed 18 games on medical leave of absence; **played in NIT