The news that broke mid-morning Thursday seemed to catch everyone in Niner Nation by surprise. Charlotte announced that it had “released” coach Mark Price, and would replace him on an interim basis with former Appalachian State coach and top Price assistant Houston Fancher.
The press release contained little detail:
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Dr. Philip Dubois and Director of Athletics Judy Rose, today, announced that third-year head men’s basketball coach Mark Price has been released from his contract, effective immediately.
“Mark and (his wife) Laura have dedicated time and energy to strengthen our men’s basketball program,” Dubois said. “It’s always difficult to part ways with such very fine people.”
“We appreciate all that coach Price has done for our program,” said Rose. “His background and knowledge were assets to our young players and we appreciate him sharing his talents with our team. This was a difficult decision, especially as we make plans to open conference play, but we do feel it is in the best interest of our basketball program.”
Price went 30-42 in two-plus seasons patrolling the sidelines in Halton Arena, getting the gig without having coached at the collegiate level. His 49ers went 16-20 in Conference USA play. The Niners have suffered four straight losses, including a 23-point decision to Wake Forest that left Price searching for answers. The final straw appeared to be a 64-50 loss Sunday at Chattanooga. Price’s comments to Charlotte49ers.com after that contest revealed some further concerns.
“Disappointing game for us,” Charlotte coach Mark Price said. “We got off to a slow start. Fortunately, we were able to find a group that got us back into the game by halftime. We struggled to score the ball in the second half. Chattanooga is a good defensive team. It is tough to win on the road when you can’t score.”
As the day unfolded, David Scott of the Charlotte Observer gathered quite a bit of additional information behind the move. Charlotte fans also took to Twitter to voice their opinions regarding the move, along with their thoughts on Rose and Dubois. A movement to unseat Rose was already afoot online, along with “FIRE JUDY!” chants that broke out during every second-half free throw attempt in the second half of the Wake Forest contest. Other fans revealed that they were not impressed with Price’s hiring in the first place, countering the displeasure over Price’s replacement.
Price spoke to Scott, revealing his take on the dismissal. He mentioned the reasoning the school had given him for the move, along with his thoughts:
“They said they didn’t like the direction of the program was taking and that I might have lost some of my players, which I don’t agree with. But we didn’t get quite as many wins as people wanted. That’s the reality of the business.
“It wasn’t a long conversation. I obviously wasn’t their guy. It was their decision to use an awfully quick hook. But that’s the way it goes.”
Price added that he was “stunned”.
Rose spoke later in the day to the Observer, and for as little detail as the initial press release included, her thoughts were crystal clear.
“We haven’t come out ready to play,” Rose said. “That’s why I say he’s lost his players. How can we come out playing like that? I don’t think the players are playing to the top of their capabilities. We didn’t see a lot of passion on the floor for us to get back on the right direction.”
“We’re trending in the wrong direction. Our record shouldn’t be our record against the competition we’re playing. But where we are in our season, we can get back on track.”
Charlotte drew an announced crowd of 5,512 for its last home contest under Price against Wake Forest. Halton Arena’s listed capacity is 9,105. Price spoke of his team’s struggles during the media availability after that contest.
“It was 12-12, and we’d worked ourselves back (into) the game there,” said Price. “It hurt that (starting guard) Hudson (Price) got in foul trouble. He’s a key, and we play better when he’s on the floor. They made a little run there and stretched it out, and we just…you know, I don’t know. We’ve gotta find a way to get everybody going. It’s a struggle right now.”
“They played well, but a lot of that was us. You’ve gotta make shots, and you can’t turn the ball over. They played hard, and they did what they were supposed to do. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do. We’ve gotta find a way to get it going. We’re not playing good basketball right now.”
To be sure, all-Conference USA first-teamer Jon Davis’ struggles have been a concern. Davis is over six points off his 19.6 points per game average from last season, and while his assists per game have increased, his field goal and three-point percentages have both significantly dropped. Davis’ 39 turnovers through nine games are also more than double the total of any other 49er player. The star junior has scored in double digits just twice in his last five contests, including a 1-for-6, five-point outing in Sunday’s loss at Chattanooga.
Price’s departure also costs the 49ers their second-leading scorer. Scott reported late Thursday night that redshirt senior guard Hudson Price, Mark’s son, will be seeking his release from the program. The younger price averaged 10.2 points per game through his first nine contests, shooting 62.7 percent (32-for-51) from the floor. Price was also his club’s leading rebounder, at 4.8 per game. Another Price, Carmel Christian (Charlotte) guard Josh, announced earlier this year his commitment to Liberty University. The 6’3″ guard will begin his career as a Flame in the 2018-19 season.
Price has been lauded by many — including the author of this piece — for his class and the respectful manner with which he approaches others. ESPN’s Dick Vitale, among many, weighed in on the news.
What awaits Price next has not yet been determined. He will be paid through the remainder of his contract, at a rate of $500,000 per year. There are two additional seasons remaining past the balance of this season on that deal. Fancher will guide the 49ers through the end of the year. Fancher went 44-41 in three years leading North Greenville (NCAA Division II), then went 137-136 (79-73 Southern Conference) in nine seasons at Appalachian State. The Southern Conference named him its Coach of the Year in 2003, a season in which the Mountaineers won their first of three regular-season league titles (2007 and 2008 the others) under his stewardship. The Mountaineers played in the 2007 NIT.