Editorial: Price’s “shocking” firing has many dynamics

In Conference USA, CUSA by Ken Cross

By Ken Cross

We are indeed in an era of firing coaches because of unrealistic expectations and the romance with instant gratification and unfortunately, already, the basketball dominos have started falling.  It is mid-December and today Charlotte 49ers Athletic Director Judy Rose dismissed former NBA All-Star Mark Price who was only in the third season at the helm.

Price took over a program near the bottom of Conference USA and was working to make it relevant again.  As Charlotte has struggled out of the blocks with a 3-6 record, Rose told the Charlotte Observer that she didn’t like the state of the team based on losses to what she considered lesser competition.  The 49ers have lost four in a row, two of which include losses at James Madison and at Chattanooga.

Price noted in the same article that he was called in on Thursday morning and told that Rose was “going in a different direction” as she intimated that he may have lost some of the players.

Rose is noted for pulling the trigger on basketball coaches as she dismissed ultra-successful and popular Bobby Lutz, who had a 208-158 record in his 12 years in 2010.  Lutz led the 49ers to five NCAA Tournaments while they were in Conference USA before the program ventured into the Atlantic 10 for a five-year run.

Alan Major was next as he spent five years at the school and had generally no success.  The recruiting base fell way below the standard that Lutz had created when the 49ers used to play and beat Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Marquette on a regular basis in a stacked CUSA.  Major eventually went on medical leave in the middle of the 2014-15 season and was dismissed on Selection Sunday of that year.

Veteran Houston Fancher takes over the program on the interim as he had a nine-year run as the head coach at Appalachian State with assistant coaching stops at Vanderbilt, Tennessee, UNC Wilmington, and then coming to the 49ers program with Price in 2015.

The Dribble-Drive …

Since when is two and a half years enough to entrust a coach to perform a major rebuild? Price inherited a program that had about one-tenth of the recruiting base that it had under Lutz before the it became a revolving door as transfers came and went under Major?

However, let’s not forget, Rose is a decorated athletic director who has made a huge positive difference in that chair to the school, the city, area, and region and she broke barriers as she was one of only three female athletic directors when she was hired in 1990-91.  Rose has seen 14 of the 16 programs win championships while finally introducing football as a sport five years ago.

However, though, the one-time Pat Summitt assistant at Tennessee misfired on dismissing Price this quickly and at this juncture of the season.

The timing was wrong based on the fact that it is still early and the basketball hasn’t bounced in the Conference USA wars as of yet.  The 49ers are also in a 13-day stretch where there is only one game, Monday at East Carolina, so there was time to change and tweak generally anything within the team. Motivation and positivity can spawn easily in such a time frame. Charlotte has a tough road though as it has six games away from Halton Arena before the 49ers finally returning home for a matchup with Marshall on Thursday, Jan. 11.

The troubling comment and the comment that needs imperial analysis was that Rose thought Price had lost the team to which he obviously disagreed.  The big question for Rose, is “How has Mark Price lost the team?”

There was a tough 80-57 loss to Wake Forest early last week where the Demon Deacons took the first swing, knocked the Niners to their heels as they soon fell with no retort.  We saw the team struggle on the court, but how and when had he lost this team –  behind the scenes, in practice, in the community, and further on the recruiting trail?

Losses to JMU and Chattanooga were troubling, but Charlotte is ranked below both teams in the latest kenpom.com ratings.  In RPI, Charlotte is 332nd in the nation out of the 355 Division-1 basketball playing schools.  JMU is actually below that at 346 while Chattanooga is at 288.

If Rose was crunching those numbers, here is where her conclusion led to dismissing Price as the 49ers have a strength of schedule that is currently at 289.  However, numbers shouldn’t be the sole determinant of anything.

Finally, it seems like there is more to this story based on the timing of letting Price go.  He came in with long odds to get the program back to the Lutz era as it has as a dwindling fan base and a city that doesn’t pay attention to the exploits of the program nearly as it should.

This is a program that can win at a high level again and one that we all want to see move forward and be a player, nationally, once again.  However, any coach must be given time.  In a totally different scenario, look at the depth of despair of South Carolina’s program when Frank Martin took over for Darrin Horn.  USC athletic director Ray Tanner stuck with Martin as the Gamecocks faced many of the same problems that Charlotte still encounters.  Five years later, though, Martin led the Gamecocks to the first Final Four in school history.