Familiarity, similarity of head coaching methods and strategies add to intrigue of Saturday’s Gardner-Webb at Charlotte 49ers matchup

By Richard Walker

Charlotte 49ers head football coach Will Healy and Gardner-Webb head football coach Tre Lamb have known each other for years.

Charlotte 49ers coach Will Healy talks before his school’s first-ever postseason appearance, the 2019 Bahamas Bowl.

That’s why Saturday’s 6 p.m. game at Charlotte’s Richardson Stadium will have a “family” feel to it, even as both coaches say they desperately seek a victory over a coaching rival that they consider a respected friend.

“We’ve got a really, really good test with Gardner-Webb,” Healy said during his weekly Tuesday news conference. “I’ve known Tre Lamb for a really long time. I went against him when I was at Austin Peay and he was offensive coordinator at Tennessee Tech. I’ve gone against him when he was at Mercer. And now, the first opportunity to go against him as a head coach.”

Healy also sees why many compare him to Lamb. And vice versa.

“I see the excitement that he is bringing to that program,” Healy said. “I see a lot of similarities in what they’re working on and building there and what we’re working on and building here.”

Healy, 36, was hired as 49ers head coach on Dec. 5, 2018. He guided Charlotte to its first winning season and first postseason bowl appearance in 2019 and last Friday guided the 49ers to a 31-28 victory over Duke for the program’s first win over a Power Five major college conference team in Charlotte’s first home game against an ACC and Power Five opponent.

Lamb, who turns 32 next week, was hired at Gardner-Webb a year later, on Dec. 14, 2019. He has yet to coach a full season, but last Saturday’s 30-25 loss at Georgia Southern marked the second-closest loss to a Football Bowl Subdivision team in school history.

The connection started when Lamb was a player at Tennessee Tech from 2009 to 2012 and Healy was starting his coaching career at nearby rival Chattanooga from 2009 to 2015.

When Healy became head coach at Austin Peay from 2016 to 2018, he coached directly against Lamb twice.

Tre Lamb shown during Gardner-Webb’s 2021 winter/spring football season

In 2016, Lamb was quarterbacks coach for a Mercer team that knocked off Austin Peay 41-34. And in 2018, Austin Peay won 41-10 in an Ohio Valley Conference game over Tennessee Tech when Lamb was its offensive coordinator.

Despite their deep Tennessee roots, both coaches have mined the rich talent base of the Charlotte-metro area in which their schools are located that also includes close proximity to longtime areas known for producing top football talent like the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., and Atlanta, Ga., markets.

“Tre and I both understand how important it is to protect what’s going on at home,” Healy said. “We’re fortunate to be in a really fertile recruiting area. The Carolinas in general are where we’ve had a lot of success and we look to add even more success to that.”

At Charlotte, 37 of Healy’s 133 players would be considered metro Charlotte players, among them former East Lincoln standout Cameron Dollar, former Huss standout Prince Bemah and former Shelby standout Calvin Camp. Each of those three players made played significant time in last Friday’s season-opening win over Duke.

At Gardner-Webb, 28 players came from within 100 miles of its Boiling Springs, N.C., campus. That includes 13 players from Cleveland County and three players from Gaston County. Among them are six who played in last Saturday’s game – Tyler Arrington of Shelby, Jalin Graham of Crest and Stormy Mosteller of Burns from Cleveland County and Matthew Robinson of South Point, Kendall Massey of Ashbrook and Tremayne Booker of Forestview from Gaston County.

“I think the biggest thing that’s changed is that Gardner-Webb is becoming cool again,” Lamb said. “And that’s no disrespect to anybody that’s been here before me.
“We have re-branded and we have a young coaching staff and I think it’s becoming cool if you live in this area – Spartanburg, Greenville, Cleveland County, Charlotte – and I think those guys are considering Gardner-Webb. I think we used to be a last resort. Like, ‘Hey, I don’t have anything else. They offered me and that’s where I’m going to go.’ We want to beat people in recruiting.”