CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte 49ers finally have a face for their fledgling football program.
The 49ers announced the hiring of Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brad Lambert as their first head coach at a noon news conference Tuesday.
Lambert, 46, will need to hit the ground running for a program that will begin play in 2013. He can begin recruiting immediately for an incoming redshirt freshman class in 2012. Lambert can hire two assistant coaches this year before filling out his staff in 2012.
Lambert, who has no head-coaching experience, has been at Wake Forest since 2001 and was one of Deacons coach Jim Grobe's top lieutenants. He was the defensive coordinator since 2008, beginning his stint at Wake Forest as linebackers coach before being promoted.
He will make a base salary of $175,000. The 49ers appear to be following the pattern of Old Dominion, which began football in 2009 and hired Bobby Wilder, a longtime assistant at Football Championship Subdivision program Maine who had no previous head-coaching experience.
The Monarchs have gone 17-5 in their two seasons (9-2 in '09, 8-3 in '10) under Wilder, against competition that closely mirrors what Charlotte will play (a mixture of NCAA Division II and FCS teams).
Charlotte will play at the FCS level at first but plans to move to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) eventually.
Athletics director Judy Rose has been looking for a coach for several months and said she wanted to have one hired by April1, four weeks before the school is to break ground on its on-campus stadium. She was impressed enough with Lambert to beat that deadline by a month.
"I've been surprised that in the last few years Brad hasn't moved from Wake," said James Madison coach Mickey Matthews, who coached with Lambert at Marshall and Georgia. "I've gotten several inquiries about him from Big 12 and SEC schools, about him possibly moving from Wake for an assistant's job there.
"And every time I called him about something like that, he would say he has the best assistant's job in the nation and wasn't interested."
Lambert, a second-team all-Big Eight defensive back at Kansas State, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma in 1988-89. He went on to Marshall (1990-95) and Georgia (1996-2000) before Wake Forest.
Lambert coached many of the best defensive players in Deacons history, including linebackers Aaron Curry (Seattle Seahawks), Jon Abbate (All-ACC) and Stanley Arnoux, as well as defensive back Alphonso Smith.
In 2010, Lambert's third season as coordinator, the young Deacons struggled defensively. They ranked last in the ACC in points allowed per game (35.8), 11th in total defense (430.7 yards) and pass defense (143.8) and 10th in rush defense (192.5).
"He's the right guy for UNC Charlotte from my standpoint," said Jim Donnan, head coach at Marshall and Georgia while Lambert was there. "He's been around college football on both levels, (FBS and FCS). He knows about fund raising. He's a very competitive guy and very adaptive, which he's going to need since he's starting a new program there."
Lambert was part of several successful teams with Donnan. Marshall won the NCAA Division I-AA championship in 1992 and lost in the championship game in three other seasons. At Georgia, Lambert was linebackers coach on teams that won four straight bowls. Wake Forest won the 2006 ACC championship and played in the Orange Bowl that season.
"He's got a really good feel for how to handle people and players," said Donnan. "Every guy has a motor that runs differently. He makes sure he taps into that."
Donnan said Lambert understands what's involved in not only his first head-coaching job, but starting a program from scratch.
"They don't have helmets, shoes or anything there yet," said Donnan. "But when we were at Marshall, we were building a new stadium, so he knows what it's like to have your office in the gym, to take a bus to practice, things like that. He's done that.
"Marshall, it was so different from Oklahoma. So he had to learn with me about partial scholarships, Pell Grants, getting transfers in ... the things he's going to have to do starting up a new deal at Charlotte. He's not going to get the pick-of-the-litter players. He's going to have to bring them in and develop them, which he's done before.
"And he has the one ability to meet people. He's very genuine. He gets his message across and can get people dialed in and behind him. He's going to need that support."