The past few weeks have brought a lot of change for the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball program. In the midst of exam week and after starting the season 3-6, it was announced Mark Price would no longer be at the helm of the team.
Taking the reins as interim head coach was Houston Fancher, an assistant coach that was Price’s first hire for the program. While the firing of Price caught fans off guard, it also surprised the coaching staff.
“It’s sort of a spur of the moment decision you have to make, in terms of whether or not to take the team over. While you balance your loyalties with coach, you also know you have loyalty to the players as well,” Fancher said. “The change of head coach is one thing, but if they change the whole staff is completely different. So at least they had some people there to support them.”
Support has been key during this transition for the team.
“That’s what we spent the first week after the change was made, working on them and assuring them that things were going to be fine, that they were going to get coach and that they were going to be supported. We spent a lot of time breathing confidence in them that first week, and I think that was really the key,” Fancher said.
He started his tenure with a road game against in-state foe ECU during mid-December. The week of preparation the team put in created an energized atmosphere.
“We were almost too excited to play that next game. Everyone wanted to come out and do so well starting off anew. It was almost like preseason all over again, getting ready for that game.”
During the first half the game, Charlotte came out to a slow start. Fancher described how the team was “a little nervous” and “a little antsy” which lead to an ECU lead of 31-26 after the first 20 minutes of play. But when the coaching staff went into the locker rooms to regroup with their team, they were greeted by players who were policing themselves.
During the second half, the Niners outscored the Pirates 43-19, which led to a 69-50 win. While the game could easily be highlighted by personal achievements such as Andrien White’s 30 points, Milos Supica’s 10 rebounds or Jon Davis’ six assists, a more significant lesson came out of the victory. The message was simple and was summed up well in a postgame tweet that just read: #we.
“Our emphasis was going to be on we and everything we do. We win together, we lose together, we practice together, we compete together. We kept using the word “we,” we didn’t want to use the word “I” or “me” at any time,” Fancher said.
Charlotte suffered their seventh loss of the season when a buzzer beater didn’t fall down at the University of Southern Florida and the Bulls pulled out a 78-76 win. While uncertainty could have handicapped the team, Fancher is now using that to build up this group of players – especially now as they are facing the beginning of the conference slate.
“I don’t want the excitement level to wane, I don’t want them to get use to this all of the sudden,” Fancher said. “We’re trying to progressively improve. Your bread is buttered in conference play, that’s what we’re headed towards now, that’s what really matters in the grand scheme of things.”
The tight-knit playing style displayed on the court the past two games is being touted by Fancher as the team’s biggest strength.
“I think they’re really starting to buy into each other, believe in each other and support each other. I guess chemistry is the word that comes to mind. Our chemistry has taken a huge step forward. I think that’s big for us right now. When we’re playing cohesively, our defense has improved,” Fancher said.
Though he has 30 years of coaching experience under his belt, Fancher’s style of teaching continues to evolve.
“The thing I want to do is communicate first, delegate next and evaluate last. Those are things we try to do. We make sure we try to communicate to them what their roles are, assign roles and evaluate to see what direction we need to go next,” Fancher said.
Fancher also knows that he’s not the only one making decisions on the team: he places a lot of trust on his fellow coaches and his players.
“I learned the loudest person in the room is not always the smartest,” Fancher said. “I want to be calm for them during the games. We have a great staff, our guys in place and I trust them, believe in what they’re saying, use their input. We’ve got some grown-up guys that have played a lot of basketball games, so sometimes you just have to let them play and not get in their way. That’s another thing I’ve learned over time is to not overcoach, let your players make plays.”
The Newport, Tennessee native has accumulated 12 years of head coaching experience from North Greenville and Appalachian State. He also worked under Bruce Pearl at the University of Tennessee, and served as the interim head coach after Pearl’s firing in 2011.
“I understand the up’s and down’s of the profession and the way things go. I’ve been in Coach Price’s position before, I lost a job like he did. I’ve been an interim head coach before at Tennessee. I’ve seen just about everything that can come and go in college basketball so I learn to expect the unexpected in a lot of circumstances,” Fancher said.
Though he touts a resume with the needed experience, Fancher says he is not eyeing the permanent head coaching job at Charlotte.
“I want to keep the entire focus on the team. It’s not about me getting a job or me taking over. It’s about taking care of these guys and that’s the thing I want the emphasis to be on. We just took our next team picture and no coaches are in it because it’s about the guys. That’s what the focus is on.”
“Honestly, I’m worried about tomorrow right now, I’m not worried about if I’ll stay on or not, that’s not my mission. I think if we do what we’re supposed to do and take care of business like we’re supposed to, things will take care of themselves. If we’re supposed to be here beyond this season it will happen, and if we’re not it won’t.”