In 2011, Brad Lambert took on the responsibility of building the 49ers upstart football program from scratch. Now in his seventh overall season as the program’s architect, Lambert leads the 49ers into their third season at the FBS level and fifth season of competition.
The 49ers played for two years (2013; 2014) as an FCS Independent before making their debut in the FBS as a member of Conference USA in 2015.
Along the way, Lambert has overseen a string of firsts, capped this past year when the 49ers earned their first wins in Conference USA play and saw their first player taken in the NFL Draft.
In 2016, Charlotte doubled its win total from its FBS debut with a 4-8 mark while producing a 3-5 record in Conference USA to finish fifth of seven teams in the East Division and eighth of 13 teams, overall. Four-year starting defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi became the first 49er to earn first team all-Conference USA honors and was selected with the first pick of the third round (65th overall) by the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft.
“He’s been a great representative of our university and continues to elevate our program,” Lambert said of Ogunjobi. “He worked extremely hard in pursuit of his goals and I know he’ll continue to work extremely hard at the next level. We could not be prouder of all that he has achieved and the type of player and person he has become.”
While Ogunjobi was the first 49er to be taken in the NFL Draft, all-time leading receiver Austin Duke (Carolina Panthers), all-time leading rusher Kalif Phillips (Green Bay Packers) and standout defensive lineman Brandon Banks (Washington Redskins) all signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents.
During the 2016 season, the 49ers picked up the program’s first three C-USA victories, all on the road, with wins at Florida Atlantic, Marshall and Southern Miss. The 28-23 win at FAU was the program’s first league victory. With back-to-back wins at Marshall and Southern Miss, the 49ers became the first team in league history to defeat both traditional powers on the road in the same season.
While Ogunjobi took home first-team all-C-USA honors, seven 49ers earned honorable mention and two were named to the league’s all-Freshman team. Freshman defensive back Ben DeLuca was named Freshman all-America by Pro Footbal Focus to become the first 49er so honored.
In 2015, the 49ers made the leap to the FBS and picked up a victory in the program’s first-ever FBS game by toppling bowl-bound Georgia State, 23-20, in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. The 49ers would finish the season with a 2-10 record with defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi and running back Kalif Phillips becoming the first 49ers to earn all-Conference USA honors by taking home second-team awards.
Hired Mar. 1, 2011, the 20-year coaching veteran was charged with building the start-up program, recruiting its first players, helping design the stadium layout and infrastructure, hiring the staff and assembling legions of fans.
On April 28, 2011, Lambert officially broke ground on the 49ers stadium, not with a shovel but a front-end loader before a crowd of over 3,000 fans. In February of 2012, the program’s first recruiting class was announced and in August of 2012, the first players started workouts for what would be a red-shirt season. In April of 2013, the 49ers staged their first Spring Game and on August 31, 2013, the program burst out of the tunnel for its inaugural game.
The 49ers would win that first game, 52-7, against Campbell and go on to a 5-6 record. Along the way, the 49ers picked up their first-ever FCS Top 25 win with a dramatic come-from-behind 53-51 victory over #24 Gardner-Webb. Trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter, Charlotte scored 29 straight points to take the lead and stopped the Bulldogs two-point conversion in the final minute to secure the win.
The first season included four games against FCS top 25 opponents.
Charlotte picked up its first FCS road win at Presbyterian, 45-21, put up over 500 yards of total offense at #3 Coastal Carolina and closed the season with a record-setting 61-17 victory at Morehead State.
Season Two was highlighted by an explosive offense that featured the program’s first-ever 1,000-yard rusher and receiver. Running back Kalif Phillips rushed for 1441 yards and 20 touchdowns and slot receiver Austin Duke had 1373 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. The 49ers again finished 5-6, but from a competitive level, five losses were by one possession and two came in overtime. Against competition similar to the inaugural season, including eight common opponents, Charlotte enjoyed a +37 scoring differential as opposed to a -17 differential in the first season.
In the spring of 2015, offensive lineman Daniel Blitch (Carolina Panthers) and defensive back Desmond Cooper (Jacksonvile Jaguars) were invited to the NFL rookie minicamps – becoming the first 49ers to get an invite to an NFL camp. Cooper became the first 49er to sign an NFL contract, when Jacksonville signed him after the two-day camp. Cooper would stay with the team through the preseason and saw action in 2015 preseason contest.
A 10-year assistant at Wake Forest, who also had successful stints at Georgia, Marshall and Oklahoma, Lambert was announced as head coach by university Chancellor Dr. Philip Dubois and 49ers Director of Athletics Judy Rose in a press conference in the university’s Barnhardt Student Activity Center, Mar. 1, 2011.
“Brad is, first and foremost, a man of integrity,” Dubois said. “Not counting his playing days, he has more than 23 years of experience at the coaching level in four excellent Division I programs. He has experienced post-season and bowl success. He knows what success looks like. He also understands the importance of patience and resilience required to build a new program.”
“I have absolutely no doubt that we got the right fit for Charlotte,” Rose added. “I know after spending as much time with Brad as I have, that he’s a builder. He makes players better -- and I see him doing the same thing in building our program at Charlotte. He’s obviously a relationship person, which I value very strongly. Look at the people that he has coached that have made special plans and flown in to be here today to help celebrate with Brad and his family. To me that speaks volumes.”
Over his 23-year career prior to coming to Charlotte, Lambert won an NCAA National Championship and an Atlantic Coast Conference title, went to eight bowl games and four NCAA National Championship games and enjoyed a winning pct. of over 62 percent.
“The biggest thing for me was once I got involved in the process, I saw the vision and commitment and the excitement that there is here for football. They have great plans in place and it lines up with the vision I have. Football is really important to this university and that’s exciting for me and my family. I am humbled as well that we’ve been entrusted to lead this team,” Lambert said. “I would like to thank Chancellor Dubois and Judy Rose for the opportunity.”
Lambert served as Defensive Coordinator for the Demon Deacons for three years prior to joining the 49ers. He was Linebackers Coach and Special Teams Coach at Wake Forest from 2001-2009. He served as secondary, linebackers, special teams and defensive ends coach while at Georgia and as secondary and defensive ends coach at Marshall. He began his coaching career as graduate assistant at Oklahoma.
In his 10 years under Jim Grobe at Wake Forest, he was an integral part of the Deacons most successful football era. He was the Linebackers Coach on Wake Forest’s 2006 ACC Champion team and was a part of four Bowl Game appearances, including three straight from 2006-2008. In 2008, he coached Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, as the Deacons advanced to their third straight bowl game: the 2008 EagleBank Bowl.
“Character, integrity, toughness. That’s how we did it under coach Grobe and that’s how we will do it here. We’re going to be a tough football team that’s really disciplined,” Lambert added.
The Deacons had five winning seasons during Lambert’s tenure, including the 11-3 ACC Championship and Orange Bowl team in 2006 and the 9-4 squad that advanced to the 2007 Meineke Car Care Bowl. In 2008, Lambert’s first as Defensive Coordinator, the Deacons went 8-5 to cap a three-year run in which Wake Forest put together an overall 28-12 record and a 15-9 mark in the ACC while earning bids to the three straight bowl games. Over the course of his 10-year run at Wake Forest, Lambert helped the Deacons to a 61-60 record.
“He has a balance in what his expectations are,” Rose added. “He wants to put a talented team on the field and he expects to graduate his players -- he expects excellence both on the field and in the classroom. He has those qualities we are looking for: patience, vision, a great work ethic. In addition, he knows this area extremely well and has recruited this region of the country heavily during his career.”
Prior to joining Wake Forest’s staff, Lambert coached for 11 years with Jim Donnan at both Marshall (1990-95) and Georgia (1996-2000). He got his start as a Graduate Assistant at the University of Oklahoma.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been around outstanding coaches who have had a huge impact on my career. I owe a lot to them and wouldn’t be where I am without their support and the opportunities they gave me,” Lambert added.
At Georgia, Lambert helped the Bulldogs to a 40-19 record that included four straight bowl wins: 1997 Outback Bowl, 1998 Peach Bowl, 1999 Outback Bowl and 2000 Oahu Bowl. At Marshall, he was a part of the Thundering Herd’s 1992 NCAA Division I-AA National Championship. In fact, as an assistant coach at Marshall, Lambert helped the Herd to the national title game in four of his six years and to a semifinal appearance in a fifth.
During his coaching career, Lambert has overseen the development of players such as Ogunjobi, Curry, Will Witherspoon, Stanley Arnoux and Alphonso Smith. He also coached both Champ Bailey and Hines Ward while serving as Special Teams Coordinator at Georgia.
A 1987 graduate of Kansas State, Lambert was a four-year letterwinner who earned second-team all-Big Eight honors as a Defensive Back in 1984. He was an Academic all-Big Eight choice from 1984-86.
Lambert and his wife, Angie, have three children: a daughter, Lucy, and sons Layne and Beau.
Read about the other coaches at Charlotte who will be at the camp HERE.