Four years ago, the first Charlotte football team walked out onto the field of the Jerry Richardson Stadium. The team took the win, 52-7, against the Campbell Camels. A sea of green in the stadium raved with each touchdown. At that inaugural game, hopes were high for the Charlotte 49ers.
But they didn’t last long.
The team finished with a 5-6 season, then 5-6 the following year, 2-10 in 2015 and 4-8 in 2016.
For those years, 49er fans gave the excuses: They’re new. Charlotte football will get better. Give it a few years. They’re doing well for a new program.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the team finished with a 1-11 season, with a score of 25-24 on their sole win. The student body has a different reaction than the previous seasons. They’re demanding change.
Many fans expected head coach Brad Lambert’s six years with the 49ers to come to an end, but on Nov. 27 Director of Athletics Judy Rose and Chancellor Philip L. Dubois announced that Lambert would be retained.
The hashtags #FireJudyRose and #FireLambert have gone viral on Twitter, the campus has been chalked demanding her release and an alumnus paid $1,800 to fly a banner reading “Fire Judy Rose! Help wanted new A.D. needed!” in the sky before a home game on Oct. 21.
Rose started her role as Director of Athletics in 1990, making history as the first woman to head a Division I athletics program. She has played such a key role in Charlotte Athletics that the Judy W. Rose Football Center was named after her. However, some fans are using this legacy against her.
“Given Judy’s glass-ceiling shattering appointment to an AD position as a female in the early ’90s, the fact that she has never been given the opportunity to move up to a school in the ACC, SEC, or BIG 10, or other power conferences as they come and go, speaks volumes,” said alumnus Job Fickett.
Students pay an $824 athletic fee each year. The money helps fund maintenance and operation of athletic facilities and salaries, including Rose’s $300,000 a year. UNC Charlotte students pay more for athletics than any other school in the UNC system.
“For years, Judy Rose has let our basketball program sink to irrelevance and has mismanaged our young football program,” said sophomore Grace Fendrick. “Paying the highest student fees, we as students are fed up. We are taking a stand.”
Protesters are wondering if their money is being wasted. A low percentage of students attend the games. During the football team’s fourth season in 2016, the highest attendance was their first home game against Elon with 4,648 tickets used, roughly 16 percent of the university’s population.
Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, quarterbacks coach Jeff Mullen and receivers coach Damien Gary have been fired. Former offensive coordinator Greg Adkins will now coach the offensive line and running backs. Lambert will be responsible for filling coaching voids.
“This has been a profoundly disappointing season for our team, department and fans,” Rose said in a statement. “We have to win games, plain and simple. With that said, coach Lambert and I have been in constant communication throughout this season. Coach Lambert is fully invested in making necessary changes to strengthen our program.”