The first time I saw Brad Lambert’s abilities in action he was on the sidelines of the 2007 Orange Bowl after he helped a 15th-ranked Wake Forest team to their seventh bowl game in the team’s history and a program best 11-3 season. A few years later Coach Lambert and I both decided that green pairs better with gold than black does and we both now call Charlotte home.
Long before Lambert put on the headset and coached, he put on the pads and found his love for the game in the sixth grade.
“As a kid I grew up watching the Steelers, they had a guy playing for them named Jack Lambert. He was a great player, we had the same last name and the Steelers were winning Super Bowls. Seeing that on TV and then playing the game I just fell in love with the game,” Lambert said.
After harnessing a passion for the sport in sixth grade, Lambert stayed athletic playing football and basketball while running track throughout his high school days. He went on to have a stellar career as a defensive back at Kansas State. After he graduated Lambert initially thought that meant hanging up his cleats and following in his father’s footsteps.
“When I got out of Kansas State I had a degree in finance and I thought ultimately I would get into the banking industry like my father,” Lambert said.
Instead, Lambert took the advice of one of his coaches and stuck with the sport, becoming a graduate assistant at the University of Oklahoma. There he formed a relationship with the offensive coordinator, Jim Donnan. A few years later Donnan left Oklahoma for Marshall, where he was named the head coach of the Thundering Herd.
Following Donnan to Huntington was Lambert, being given his first official coaching position. After a successful five-year stint at Marshall, Lambert and Donnan packed their bags and moved to Athens, Georgia where Donnan was asked to coach the Bulldogs.
“Coach Donnan was really good to me from the stand point that he gave me my first job. He took me to a school like the University of Georgia where he probably could have hired anyone he wanted, but he brought me along,” Lambert said.
After four years in Georgia, Lambert parted ways with Donnan and took a job at Wake Forest as a linebacker coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in time for the 2007 Orange Bowl run. During his time with the Demon Deacons, Lambert picked up the coaching style of head coach Jim Grobe.
“I had a couple chances to leave Wake but I never did because I liked the way he ran the office,” Lambert said. “I really liked his philosophy, the way he did things.”
Part of his job with Wake Forest was recruiting in the Charlotte region. Being in the area, he heard rumors of the 49ers starting a football program. With a piqued interest, Lambert reached out to the university expressing his interest in the program and a job interview was set up.
In the interview, Lambert was shown the plan that Judy Rose and the athletic department had drawn up and was impressed. After leaving the interview, Lambert was “really fired up” about the future of 49er football In less than three weeks it was announced that Lambert would helm the football program at Charlotte and he began his first head coaching job March of 2011.
“When you make the jump from assistant coach to head coach you have to deal with a lot of things you never dealt with as an assistant. Then you throw in the aspect of it being a start-up program, I was the only guy here for a month. We didn’t have pens, pads of paper or anything. The to-do list was overwhelming at first,” Lambert said.
In addition to designing the stadium and picking out jersey styles, Lambert and his four-person staff had the task of piecing together the first recruiting class of Charlotte football. Believing in the ‘if you build it they will come’ mantra, the coaching staff kept working and sure enough, they welcomed their first class of players the summer of 2012.
“It was a cool day when they finally got here and checked in for class. We got to issue them gear and we moved into the new facility. It was like we were here, we’re finally doing this,” Lambert said.
Undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments for Lambert came a year later when Charlotte officially kicked off their football history against Campbell.
“There were so many unknowns we had never coached together, the guys had never played together, the school had never put on a game before. The way that day went off was really one of the highlights of this whole thing. There’s nothing like the first game in school history,” Lambert said. “That day we were like ‘okay, we can do this.’”
Four years after the first wave of players reported to the 49ers, the program is hitting its stride. Charlotte is currently on a two-game winning streak and is two wins away from being bowl eligible in their second season in the FBS — the first season they are even bowl-eligible. After such a quick and successful start, the only way is up for the 49er football program.
“I would like to see our program in bowl games. You want to develop a program and a tradition where you’re consistently going to bowl games and winning games and you’re seeing the kids graduate,” Lambert said.
From a farm in Kansas to the Queen City and all of his stops in between, Coach Lambert has been an asset to the 49ers from the beginning, and hopefully he will be on the sidelines to see the team to their first bowl game.