2022 G5 Preview: Charlotte's Rebuild Is In Need Of Some Payoff
And this year is as good as any for it.
This is part of the C-USA Preview, the second conference in the Outside Zone’s Group of Five season preview package. Check out the preview landing page for all previous stories. All previews and the entire Outside Zone archive are available for only $5 a month or $50 a year.
Charlotte is entering its fourth season under Will Healy, once the coaching wunderkind who, at 32 years old, turned Austin Peay – which had lost 27 straight and held a 1-45 record in its last 46 games – into an 8-4 team with only one FCS loss in 2017, just his second year on the job.
He was touted then as the perfect man for a recent entrant to FBS football looking to leap from the stable hands of Brad Lambert, who guided the transition to C-USA football for the 49ers, into the upper echelon of the league, with an eye on a quick move up the totem pole and into a more prestigious conference when the next round of realignment rolled around.
Charlotte had the location, the program investment and a burgeoning fan base, but needed to start stringing together seasons that would catch the eyes of college football’s power brokers, and Lambert had proven largely incapable of that. He won 12 games in four FBS seasons and was traded in for one of the hottest names in the FCS after the 2018 season.
Now, entering the 2022 season, Charlotte has succeeded in its larger goal. It hired Healy to make a name for itself and jump up to a better conference, either the American or the Sun Belt, and in October of 2021 it was offered a spot in the former that it quickly accepted (not that it was ever in question, these kinds of things are not offered without presumed acceptance).
Essentially, Healy accomplished the largest thing he was tasked with doing. Charlotte will be moving to a conference that offers more TV revenue, more prestige and a greater opportunity to grow a brand that really wants to grow. The internal investment here is obvious and certainly played a major role in the AAC extending that offer in the first place (as did Charlotte’s presence as one of America’s fastest-growing cities, which is why the C-USA brought it up in the first place). This program is in a tremendous place and should be mentioned consistently as a fledgling power at the G5 level in the coming years.
All of that being objectively true creates a fun dichotomy, because it’s equally true that through three years, Healy has accomplished basically nothing on the football field. He’s 14-17 with one bowl berth, back in 2019, and maybe two marquee wins, though even that’s being generous because Marshall was only 8-5 in 2019 and Duke was bad enough to fire its coach in 2021. Conference wins have largely come over bad opponents, and when faced with good opposition in must-win matchups, Healy’s 49ers have roundly flopped.