Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Charlotte 49ers looking for a football coach. Here’s an idea.

Brad Lambert (left) was fired as Charlotte 49ers football coach on Sunday.
Brad Lambert (left) was fired as Charlotte 49ers football coach on Sunday.

When the Charlotte 49ers began their football program six seasons ago, football was less a sport than a cause. The 49ers had repeatedly been told they didn’t need football, which was another way of saying they didn’t deserve it.

The school ignored the detractors and came up with helmets, uniforms, coaches, and finally players. Fans responded. When you went to a game at Jerry Richardson Stadium those early seasons, it was if you saw almost every Charlotte fan you ever knew. Those you didn’t see, you heard.

But the 49ers are 0-6; they’ve played six seasons and have yet to experience a winning one. On Sunday, athletics director Mike Hill announced that he’d fired Brad Lambert, the only head coach the team has had. I like Lambert, who was an inspired choice to start the program.

His numbers were not going to be pretty, not after the speed with which the 49ers advanced to the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. But he went 1-11 in 2017, and after the season I wrote that the school should let him go. As new as football was, nobody gets to be new forever.

The 49ers need to move into position to have more than successful Saturdays (they are 4-7 this season with a game to go). They need winning seasons. Hill, who was hired as athletics director eight months ago, chose Ron Sanchez to fix the basketball program. Sanchez had been associate head coach for Tony Bennett at Virginia.

The football program isn’t in the disarray basketball was. But if Sanchez is indicative of what Hill looks for in a coach, we can assume he’ll look for a top assistant at a Power 5 program.

I’d like to offer a candidate from a school that doesn’t play in a major conference. If you take the back roads, and adhere to the speed limit, he’s three hours east of Charlotte. That coach is Mike Minter, who played for two national champions at Nebraska and was a very good safety for the Carolina Panthers. Minter, 44, is head coach at Campbell.

As far as I can tell, Campbell was the Camels before Minter arrived. They are the Fighting Camels now. Campbell started football in 2008, and went: 1-10, 3-8, 3-8, 6-5 and, the season before Minter arrived, 1-10. Under Minter, the Fighting Camels have gone 3-9, 5-7, 5-6, 5-5, 6-5 and, this season, their first in the Football Championship Subdivision’s Big South, 6-5.

I don’t know if you’ve been on Campbell’s Buies Creek campus. But the town is the school and the school is the town, and to entice a football player there, charisma is required. I’ve been to a Minter practice and talked to Minter’s players and watched the coach work.

A star running back in high school, Minter was on the field with players on offense and defense, coaching, teaching and leading. He’s a leader. Wherever Minter coaches, he’ll sell the program to prospects and parents. He’s a guy you like.

When he left the Panthers in 2006, No. 30 received warm applause – from the media. And we’re not supposed to like anybody.

No matter who Charlotte hires, his timing will be ideal. Fans want to get excited about football. The school needs to give them a reason to be.

Panthers weren’t much of a lock

Last week, the Oakland Raiders won a football game. So, yeah, it was an odd week. The Jacksonville Jaguars almost won. The New York Giants won. The Detroit Lions won.

The Carolina Panthers couldn’t consistently stop the lowly Lions. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, who plays behind a line that is among the league’s worst, had been sacked 10 times by the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago and six times by the Chicago Bears the last week.

The Panthers sacked him once. Stafford got rid of the ball quickly, and the Panthers missed so many tackles after those short completions it was as if they collected them.

Detroit running back Kerryon Johnson (who was injured late in the third quarter and did not return) rushed for 87 yards on 15 carries, 5.8 yards a carry. Carolina has talent on defense. But the last two weeks, opponents have exploited it. You wait for the Panthers to adjust. Still waiting.

Last Week: 7-6

Season: 98-61-2

Lock of the Week: I picked Carolina (-4) to cover against the Lions. I lost. The Lions won 20-19. I’d won seven Locks, the lone game I pick against the line, in a row. I didn’t have to call Las Vegas. Las Vegas called me. They stopped.

Season Lock of the Week: 8-3.

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:

Chicago 4 over DETROIT

NEW ORLEANS 9 over Atlanta

BALTIMORE 7 over Oakland

Jacksonville 3 over BUFFALO

Seattle 2 over CAROLINA

CINCINNATI 3 over Cleveland

New England 9 over NEW YORK JETS

PHILADELPHIA 4 over New York Giants

San Francisco 2 over TAMPA BAY

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS 9 over Arizona

INDIANAPOLIS 4 over Miami

Pittsburgh 2 over DENVER

MINNESOTA 4 over Green Bay

HOUSTON 7 over Tennessee

Lock of the Week: DALLAS (-7½) 11 over Washington.

Reason Panthers lost not the predictable one

I wrote about this on Twitter Monday but it’s no less true today. There were numerous reasons the Panthers lost to the Lions. Going for two points with 67 seconds remaining was not one of them.

We are so predictable. We get on Carolina coach Ron Rivera for not taking more chances. What’s he thinking? Why’s he so conservative? And then, down by a point to Detroit in Detroit, Rivera takes a chance and instead of going for one point, goes for two? What’s he thinking? Why’s he so reckless?

The decision was not about kicker Graham Gano, who missed a field goal and an extra point. The decision was about saying: We are the Panthers. If we need to convert a two-point attempt, and get out of here with a victory, we will.

Rivera gambled, and he failed. Some fans say that on the road, at the end of a close game, you always go for two. They say it as if there’s an official rule book, and they have a copy. They’re wrong. The decision isn’t about analytics. It’s about instinct.

But wait. Did Rivera go for two because he didn’t trust Gano, who is one of the best kickers in the NFL? Rivera trusts him. Some argue that because the Panthers are better than Detroit, they should have gone to overtime and allowed their talent superiority to manifest itself.

On what grounds do you say that Carolina is better? The Panthers were fortunate that Johnson left with a knee injury. The Panthers couldn’t tackle him. Carolina sacked Stafford once.

The Panthers weren’t better than Detroit. As their 20-19 loss illustrates, they weren’t quite as good.

Wanted: 2nd scorer for Hornets

Kemba Walker made so many stunning plays Monday that you wanted to slap the fan next to you on the shoulder and say, “You see that!” But I was in a media seat, and he was from Boston.

Walker scored 43 points in Charlotte’s 117-112 victory Monday against the Boston Celtics at loud Spectrum Center. On this night, Walker had help. The Hornets sprinted and hustled. Tony Parker, Jeremy Lamb and Willy Hernangomez -- I like that guy’s game -- hit big shots, and Hernangomez played tough defense.

So that’s 103 points in two games for Walker, 60 of them Saturday in a home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. As good as Walker is, there’s this: What if he has an off game and only scores 30? How does Charlotte win?

The Hornets lack a second scorer on which they can regularly rely. The cast rotates; sometimes it’s this guy and sometimes it’s that guy and sometimes it’s Kemba against the world. When the game is being decided, it’s Kemba against the world. Defenders, of course, lurk. They wait for Kemba. You want Kemba to give up the ball? To whom?

If Kemba doesn’t take the shot that can win or lose the game, who do you want to take it? If the Hornets trade for such a player, they presumably will have to give up their first-round pick in 2019 and second-year player Malik Monk or rookie Jeremy Bridges. To make the numbers work, they’ll also have to throw in a high-priced veteran’s contract.

I’d love to see Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards on Charlotte’s roster, but I don’t see the Wizards dealing him. There are players Washington would rather trade. Maybe such a player is on the roster. If so, come on down.

The Hornets were impressive in their close victory against Boston because Walker simply did what he wanted when he wanted to whom he wanted. In the fourth quarter, the Celtics checked him with 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart and, for a while, 6-8 Gordon Hayward. Walker hit one 3 over the long arm of 6-10 Al Horford.

Walker scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. Some nights, he might score only 10. Meanwhile, as we wait for a second scorer to emerge or arrive, let’s enjoy Kemba. He is fearless, and although listed at 6-1, he’s not quite that tall. The season is Walker’s eighth, and he has improved in every one of them. I asked Charlotte coach James Borrego if he was aware of other players that improved every season. Borrego offered an inspired answer, and talked about Walker’s spirit, and his will.

You want an example of that will? Borrego said that on Tuesday, Walker would be the first player in the gym.

Short takes: It’s Thanksgiving, go deep

When your legs get old, they no longer do what you tell them. You know what I miss about Thanksgiving? I miss running pass patterns.

I don’t care where you grew up, or how. On Thanksgiving you watched football on TV. And before you ate, and therefore shut down, you played football. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood in which everybody had four to 14 kids. It was as if we all ran outside at the same time. And even if there was snow on the ground and ice on the streets, we played.

Remember those Thanksgiving Day plays you’d run elaborate pass patterns not at the park or playground but in your yard? OK, run to the rusted yellow Ford, and as soon as you pass it, take a hard right. Go through Johnson’s yard, and if old man Johnson runs out and chases you, don’t worry about him. He always says he’s going to hit you with his shoe, and to prove it he takes one off before he starts running. If an old man with one shoe catches you on a 19-degree afternoon, it’s your fault.

Go left at the red maple. When you get to our driveway, I’ll hit you. On two…

I liked all 105 points Monday night in the Los Angeles Rams’ 54-51 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs. I enjoy defensive struggles, too, which in 2018 means 30-27. Those old black and white game films we saw, where the weather was always cold and smoke was always coming out of players’ mouths, are like rotary phones. They belong to a different time.

You want perspective on the Los Angeles-Kansas City game? The Rams and Chiefs combined for more points than Walker did against the 76ers and Celtics. Walker scored 60 against Philadelphia and 43 against Boston. Los Angeles-Kansas City outscored him 105-103…

You can’t win if Carmelo Anthony is on your team. You could sit around a campfire, tell a story and finish before Anthony finishes banging on a defender and putting up a shot. His game fits the NBA like a set shot does…

Even though I’m willing to spend $100 to watch a pay-per-view boxing match, I’m not going to spend $20 to watch the one-on-one match Friday between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. But I understand why others will. It’s like a race stripped of every car but two. Of course, if one of the cars is driven by Joey Logano, the race might not last long enough for fans to get their money’s worth.

The appeal of Woods-Mickelson is two huge names, one course, one-on-one. When Mickelson was in Charlotte one year, I talked to him about his interest in boxing. While in town, he’d throw a party and feature a pay-per-view fight. Now he gets to be part of one.Text here.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen
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