Charlotte hires Lambert as first coach
Wake Forest coordinator had ‘wow’ factor in AD Rose’s eyes
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose's search for the school's first football coach took a dramatic twist when she came across a candidate she had never heard of: Brad Lambert.
"I read his letter of application and I said, 'Oh my gosh, who is this guy?'" Rose said of the Wake Forest defensive coordinator. "It was not your cookie cutter letter. No, it talked about growing up on a farm in Kansas, work ethic and what he would do as coach. So I started making phone calls."
Less than three weeks later, Rose was introducing Lambert on Tuesday as the first coach of the Football Championship Subdivision program that begins play in 2013.
"I think it does show something to people - we did look at those applications that came in," Rose said. "If I hadn't looked at it, he probably wouldn't be our coach here today."
Lambert, who received a six-year deal worth $250,000 annually for his first head coaching job, quickly announced he's hired former West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen to run the offense. He can hire two other assistants immediately to begin recruiting for a redshirt freshmen class that will arrive in the fall of 2012.
The 46-year-old Lambert will fill the rest of his staff early next year. The 49ers' first football game is scheduled for Aug. 31, 2013 against Campbell in Charlotte's new 15,000-seat stadium. Groundbreaking on that facility is slated for later this month.
The school of more than 25,000 students plans to eventually move to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"The ability to lay the foundation with integrity and character is really what enticed me ultimately," said Lambert, wearing a green-striped tie to match the school's colors. "You don't leave a great job that you have just to take another job. The attractive thing here was the plan that was in place."
Rose said she was targeting head coaches from the FCS level or coordinators from the FBS. She didn't entertain position coaches because she wanted someone who had called plays.
Despite seeking attention in a sports market that already includes the NFL, NBA, NASCAR and plenty of college basketball, Rose resisted hiring a big name such as former North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato or ex-Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter, who both expressed interest in the job.
Other schools recently starting football programs have gone the star route. Georgia State hired former Alabama boss Bill Curry and ex-Miami coach Larry Coker is at Texas-San Antonio.
"We had our list of what we were looking for and 'wow factor' was on there," Rose said. "But see, I think we got wow factor. Is it wow factor compared to Bill Curry or Coker, older guys who have been there and done that and come back? In a lot of people's minds maybe no. But a wow factor in what he's accomplished."
Lambert, who played defensive back at Kansas State, worked on staffs at Oklahoma, Marshall and Georgia before getting to Wake Forest in 2001. He coached linebackers until coach Jim Grobe promoted him to defensive coordinator in 2008.
After winning the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2006, Wake Forest slumped to 3-9 this season with the defense giving up a league-high 35.8 points a game. Rose said that didn't factor in her decision to choose Lambert over two other unnamed finalists and said Grobe gave Lambert a strong recommendation.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for him and I know he'll be a great head football coach," Grobe said.
Lambert's opening news conference had some star power.
Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon, who played under Lambert at Georgia, was there. So were linebacker Aaron Curry of the Seattle Seahawks, Alphonso Smith of the Detroit Lions and other former Wake Forest players, including quarterback Riley Skinner.
Curry, the No. 4 pick in the 2009 draft, said he wasn't surprised Lambert would leave an FBS program for a school not only playing at a lower level, but one that doesn't have any players, equipment, football offices or even a conference to play in.
"I kind of compared it to the relationship we had," Curry said. "He had me from the beginning and there was nothing special about me. I had no direction. I didn't know where I was going. So I was a project for him.
"For him to step into a situation where it's the very beginning for a program, he's going to be able to install his values, his morals."
But it's a long process, with Lambert's first task to entice players to join a team that's more than 900 days away from playing its first game.
"The biggest thing is everything is going to be new," Lambert said when asked about his recruiting pitch. "You walk in all the facilities will be new, the staff is going to be new and there's probably a good chance you'll play."