Charlotte became the first of the nine in-season coaching openings to close during the 2022 coaching cycle. Its choice: Michigan associate head coach Biff Poggi.
Poggi has spent the past two seasons as the “consigliere” to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, and was vital when Harbaugh hired a mostly new staff heading into the 2021 season. You may remember Poggi as a sartorial innovator sporting cutoff sleeves at his last stop as a head coach at Saint Frances Academy in Maryland.
He promises to remain all cutoff all the time in his new role once the team hits the field, but he forgot his suit for his introductory press conference as the new head coach of the Charlotte 49ers. Now athletic director Mike Hill and the Charlotte administration hope he’ll be a “disruptor” for a program that is very much a start-up no matter what he’s wearing.
“This [role] kind of hit my soul with what I do,” Poggi says. “My life in business and also in coaching has all been about turnarounds, and I like the fact that it’s a new team, if that makes sense. It’s a basic program. Not a whole lot of legacy you have to deal with.”
Harbaugh vouched for Poggi, as did former Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who Hill worked with at Florida in the mid-2000s. But the most intriguing call came from a famously protected number who Poggi had never directly worked for: Nick Saban.
“As we wrapped up our conversation a few weeks ago, he said, ‘Mike, I believe in him,’ and Nick Saban does not throw words around like that loosely,” Hill says. “That really resonated with me because of the respect I have for Coach Saban. I know that he doesn’t just throw words around. And so his strong endorsement mattered a lot.”
Charlotte has been an FBS program for barely a decade, and its story is moving very quickly, spending only two years as an FCS independent before moving up to the FBS under the modern program’s first coach, Brad Lambert. Will Healy took over in 2019 and led the team to its first bowl game in school history. In ’23, it will enter the American Athletic Conference, an invitation too good to pass up for the young program.
Given Charlotte’s continued budget issues at the FBS level, fundraising was the chief mandate. Healy beat doors down across town to make sure people knew the program existed and appeal to people with deep pockets within a city that has an affable style. Poggi will continue that work but in a different way, as his background includes a successful spell running a hedge fund. He’ll use that experience in Charlotte, one of the South’s financial centers with connections that extend to the uptown skyscrapers a few miles away from campus.
“Mike Hill sent me a text the other day. He had his first visit with Honeywell, which just relocated, and he asked them for a rather large gift,” Poggi says. “Well, the guy at Honeywell said, ‘I hear Biff Poggi’s your new coach.’ Mike goes, ‘How do you know him?’ He goes, ‘I’ve known him for years.’ So I think we'll be able to get in those boardrooms and not have any fallout. We can speak that language. Been speaking it for 35 years.”
Hill says Poggi accepted the job without asking about salary, and the coach is putting his money where his mouth is regarding what the program needs—Poggi says he will donate around $500,000 of his own money to the football program to help with staff pools and bridge the fundraising gap. (Poggi also did this at the high school level.) If Charlotte was previously lagging behind Conference USA programs from a budgetary standpoint, that gap is only going to widen when they move to the AAC.
“I'm 62 years old. The worst thing you can do is die with a U-Haul behind you for your stuff,” Poggi says. “We’re pretty charitable people, and so this is our new charity. We're going to do it that way.”
Poggi was not initially on Charlotte’s radar. Hill says he ran an open-minded search, and Poggi’s name came up thanks to the TurnkeyZRG search firm. Poggi says he had a few Power 5 programs calling this year and finished second to Jim Mora in last year’s UConn search. Now he’s the 49ers’ newest head man, and at least one cycle opening is now closed. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, here’s how the rest of the coaching market stacks up.
Eli Drinkwitz’s two-year extension signed Nov. 4 with an accompanying salary bump raised some eyebrows. The Tigers are one win away from bowl eligibility (they face Arkansas on Friday), and that is the level the program has stayed at since Drinkwitz got there. He has a 16–18 overall record. Drinkwitz’s initial contract ran through 2026. It now goes through the ’27 season. His bump in total pay takes him from $4 million to $6 million per year, an increase commensurate with the SEC market. His assistant salary pool increased, as well.
But while Drinkwitz received a pay bump, the school also received a bit of protection in the way of an increased buyout owed by Drinkwitz to the school if he leaves for another job. The contract outlines reworked windows and amounts:
Missouri gets to announce an extension, which is good for recruiting and optics as it’s clear it didn’t want to fire Drinkwitz and do a coaching search right after just finishing one for the men’s basketball team last summer. If he succeeds and/or gets hired away, then Missouri will get the money back. While the school was subjected to a fair amount of blowback for this extension, it doesn’t handcuff the program.
Drinkwitz’s extension wasn’t the only reworked deal in the SEC East, as Mark Stoops has earned his sixth extension with the Wildcats. While Stoops had auto-renewal language in his deal, this is not an automatic renewal—it’s a move by UK to fend off any suitors, and the buyout Stoops would owe to the school if he leaves is now $4.5 million. He is the program’s all-time winningest coach, surpassing Bear Bryant earlier this season.
The Jayhawks have not been shy about putting together a package to try to retain coach Lance Leipold, and it started from the moment this season began. He reportedly agreed to an extension Tuesday night, ending a process that was beginning to feel a bit protracted from Kansas’s point of view.
An impressive first season has earned Kalen DeBoer an extension through 2028, the school announced Tuesday night. DeBoer’s salary jumps from $3.2 million to over $4.2 million and increases by $100,000 every year after that. It also has retention bonuses built in if he is still with the program in subsequent years. According to a source close to the negotiations, the extension was termed as preemptive, not reactive, to an offer made by another school. The latter can come with a higher price tag.
Jobs Already Open
Jim Leonhard’s interim stint continues, but the permanent job was posted on the school’s online job board (likely a perfunctory step). The preferred qualifications include “five years of successful collegiate football coaching experience” and “Division I head coaching experience.” After his stretch as an interim, Leonhard has both and remains the expected choice, just as he seemingly has been from the moment Paul Chryst was surprisingly fired earlier this season.
Tech is considering a few options, including Georgia Tech’s Jamey Chadwell, ECU’s Mike Houston, Tulane’s Willie Fritz and Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. An additional name involved in the search is Los Angeles Rams assistant Eric Henderson, according to a source close to the search process. Henderson played for Georgia Tech in the mid-2000s, and nearly joined Billy Napier’s Florida staff only to return to L.A. The Athletic reported interim head coach Brent Key also has a legitimate shot at the job.
Former coaches on the shelf who want back in and have been connected to this job include Tom Herman, Gary Patterson and Bronco Mendenhall. Herman has spent this season as a television analyst for CBS after spending a year on Matt Nagy’s Chicago Bears staff in 2021. Mendenhall took the year off after leaving Virginia. Patterson is a special assistant at Texas. Also on the board are intriguing FCS names: Matt Entz of North Dakota State and Troy Taylor of Sacramento State. Entz is a two-time national champion at NDSU, and Taylor has engineered a turnaround at Sac State with an 11–0 regular season after winning the school’s first outright Big Sky conference title in ’19.
A source tells Sports Illustrated that Colorado is not giving up on Illinois defensive coordinator and Buffs alum Ryan Walters. Illinois is not going to stand in the way if Walters desires a head coaching job, and his buyout is termed as nominal, according to a source. Illini admins have already worked to ensure that money alone is not the reason he would leave Champaign. He already makes more than $1 million per year. If he was to get another salary increase, anything over about $1.5 million per year would make him one of the top-10 highest-paid assistants in the sport on either side of the ball.
The Bulls are casting a wide net but using a search firm for logistics, while athletic director Michael Kelly takes the lead. After firing Jeff Scott, he stated the two main criteria for candidates—head coaching experience “would be great” and “the ability to recruit the state of Florida is always important.” Among names in the mix are Herman, FAMU coach Willie Simmons and Howard coach Larry Scott.
Speaking of ADs taking the lead, Nebraska’s Trev Alberts is running a search sources describe as extremely close to the vest with only a small number of advisers truly knowing what he’s thinking. The search has been low on leaks and heavy on conjecture, including heavy rumblings of an emergency board meeting in early November that never materialized, leading to people within the football building and administration confused and scrambling to separate fact from fiction.
The names that have been floated outside of potentially retaining interim coach Mickey Joseph include NC State’s Dave Doeren and former Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, who can afford to be choosy due to the hefty amount of money owed to him by the NFL franchise.
Sources say UAB is in the final stages of its search, with Chadwell, Justin Fuente and Skip Holtz being linked, as well as Herman (if you can’t tell, the former Texas coach wants another crack at a head coaching job). The Blazers have impressive resources devoted to facilities and are looking to start strong in the AAC.
Auburn athletic director John Cohen is not scared about approaching far-flung corners of the college football world to get his coach, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll pull out an out-of-the-blue mystery candidate.
For now, according to Lane Kiffin’s Twitter account, there’s nothing substantial happening regarding him and links to Auburn ... yet. It’s unlikely anything will happen either way until after the Egg Bowl on Thursday night. Ole Miss has worked to put a compensation package together to entice Kiffin to stay, getting his salary over $9 million per year (a state law prohibits the school from offering him a contract longer than four years). Auburn can offer more years and more money if it wishes, and can also offer more resources to capitalize on recruiting; the transfer portal; and name, image and likeness (NIL). Beyond the salary money, resources are deeply important to SEC success.
How involved athletic director Ray Anderson—who recently received a vote of confidence from school president Michael Crow—is unclear. Sources have been confused about what Arizona State was doing in its search process before announcing the hiring of a search firm Nov. 14. Anderson had been contacting targets, but that no longer seems to be the case. One name connected to the job has been Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham.
Jobs That Industry Sources Are Eyeing As Potential Openings
After parting ways with former athletic director Shane Lyons last week, the Mountaineers are conducting an accelerated search for his replacement. There’s a belief that Lyons was the last bulwark between coach Neal Brown and disconcerted boosters. Brown still has a buyout owed of more than $16 million. We have already seen during this cycle that schools are not afraid to eat large buyouts (see: Wisconsin). We’ve also seen how a quick AD hire and subsequent coaching firing can go down when Auburn got rid of Bryan Harsin on Halloween and announced John Cohen later that day. Crucially, Harsin’s firing was attached to president Chris Roberts. Will WVU president Gordon Gee (known to be an administrator heavily interested in football) pull the same strategy?
There is more discussion than ever about whether David Shaw’s highly successful tenure has run its course as the school struggles to navigate NIL and the transfer portal era. Shaw is hugely respected at the school, and a source says he and AD Bernard Muir are pushing Stanford’s administration to allow the football program to play the transfer game. Shaw even said so publicly.
Those in the building are certainly not unaware to the reality of what they’ve put on the field the past few years, but in many ways, Stanford football’s competition on the recruiting trail is the university itself—the program is renowned for its academic rigor and excellence. Shaw has the institutional knowledge and relationships to help Stanford try to catch up. A potential new coach would not, and may even be frustrated with how steep the task is of recruiting players to The Farm.
Scott Satterfield has likely kept his job with a 7–4 season and the Cardinals entering the CFP rankings. Beating rival Kentucky would likely be the final step to securing a future in the Derby City that goes into next season.
Navy has struggled in the past few years, which has raised doubts about Ken Niumatalolo’s future. But Niumatalolo is an institution at the Naval Academy, and his young Midshipmen team has played better over the past few weeks. As is the case for many Navy seasons, the one game coming against Army can cure all ills.
- In the AAC, eyes are on Tulsa and Memphis as disappointing seasons wind down.
- At Bowling Green, coach Scott Loeffler seems to have worked his way off the hot-seat bubble.
- Sources are eyeing Western Michigan and Miami (Ohio) in the MAC, with the latter potentially hinging on bowl eligibility.
- In the Group of 5: FAU, Texas State and UNLV could make changes.
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