Cover Story: Bobby Lutz - end of an era

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - On Monday, UNC Charlotte fired head basketball coach, Bobby Lutz.  He's an alum who's been with the team 15 years.  Lutz had a winning record, eight trips to post-season tournaments, and a sterling reputation.  But college sports is a big money game, and the University says it is ready to make a move toward basketball relevance in the Atlantic-10 conference.

Lutz still has almost a million dollars left on his contract.  In this economy, we're asking why is this type of firing considered good business?

Because like in any profession, it's all about what have you done for me lately.  And although Bobby Lutz leaves UNC Charlotte as its winningest basketball coach in history the last five years have been mediocre.

And the University apparently feels the price they pay now is not as great as what it could be down the road.

For the last dozen years, you can't say UNC Charlotte without saying Bobby Lutz.  Twelve years as head coach of the 49ers he's had a school record five NCAA Tournament appearances, the last of which came in 2005.

But since then Charlotte has struggled, advancing twice to the NIT in 2006 and 2008, which is not the Big Dance.  And since 2008 the 49ers have gone to neither tournament, which likely led to Monday's firing.

It will cost UNC Charlotte roughly a million dollars.  Lutz had four years left on his contract.

Steve Luquire, CEO and founder of Luquire George Andrews, one of the top P.R. firms in the southeast, is helping the University in its drive to get a football team he says he doesn't believe that factored into today's decision.

He says, "I doubt this decision tied directly to football. I would suggest to you that it is an emerging university that is being very aggressive and so that attitude is there to want to move forward."

While its program is not in the league of the Tar Heels or a Duke, the 49ers have gone where many haven't, reaching the Final Four in 1977.

And since Charlotte lacks a football program basketball is its cash cow.

But since starting the season 18-and-5 and 8-and-1 in their Conference something happened.  Charlotte lost seven of its last eight games and finished the season 19-12.

The final game they played this year drew under 2,000 fans.  Luquire says while having to pay out Lutz contract will cost them.

He says the University is probably looking at it two ways. "If we had stayed with the coach would we have lost money because we haven't been winning lately. So you make a decision to go with a fresh new approach and hope that brings in some new life to the organization."

Where do they go now?  The University's not saying.  What is evident is winning may not be the only thing, but it does carry a ton of weight.

Says Luquire, "It has a great deal because winning breeds an aggressive and more positive approach to new ticket sales, new foundation money, etc.  It means a great deal."

In college sports the rise and fall can happen so quickly.  Lutz received a contract extension prior to last season.

And it was just a couple of years ago he was turning down offers to coach elsewhere and he opted to stay at UNC Charlotte.

Lutz's coaching staff has also been released from its duties.

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