CHARLOTTE — After a decade in Conference USA, the Charlotte 49ers athletic department will head into the American Athletic Conference this year with not only a new football coach but a new basketball coach.
The school announced last week that Ron Sanchez had resigned from his head coaching position after five seasons of leading the Charlotte men’s basketball team to a 72-78 record and three winning seasons.
Less than an hour after the news, it was announced that Sanchez, 43, was returning to Virginia coach Tony Bennett’s staff where he had previously served as an assistant from 2009-2018 before joining the Niners.
“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” Sanchez said in a statement. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the University. I can only hope that the impact we made on our student-athletes is as strong as the impact they have made on us.”
Last season, Sanchez’s Niners amassed 22 wins — the most for the program since 2001 — and won the CBI championship, the program’s first postseason tournament title.
Associate coach Aaron Fearne has been named as Charlotte’s interim head coach while the program conducts a national search for the 12th head coach in program history.
“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner,” Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill said in a press release. “He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men. His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.
“Our competitive goals are clear. We are driven to regularly contend for American Athletic Conference championships and return to the NCAA Tournament. We have commenced a national search for our next head coach and are excited about the future.”
On top of a coaching change in June with the offseason already underway and the transfer portal closed, the Niners will have their work cut out for them as they enter a tougher conference in the AAC.
Additionally, Charlotte’s two All-Conference USA players from last season’s roster — guard Brice Williams and center Aly Khalifa — both entered the transfer portal following the season. Williams has since transferred to Nebraska for the 2023-24 season, while Khalifa has transferred to BYU.
It’s also possible that the timing of Sanchez’s decision could play a role in how the Niners’ coaching search plays out — and that Fearne could stay on as head coach given his familiarity with the roster.
Feane has been at Charlotte for five seasons following nine years of professional coaching in Australia.
“I’m thankful to Mike Hill for the opportunity to lead our program during this time,” he said. “We are focused on welcoming back all of our players for workouts starting Monday. We have recruited some excellent pieces to help elevate the program to another level for our first season in the American Athletic Conference.”
Northwest Missouri State coach Ben McCollum, Miami assistant Kotie Kimble, Milwaukee coach Bart Lundy and UNC Asheville coach Mike Morrell are four other names that have floated around the rumor mill as possible candidates for Charlotte’s new job opening.
McCollum, in particular, has been linked to the Niners as a coach ready to make the transition to NCAA Division I basketball following sustained success in Division II. The 42-year-old has won four D2 national championships with a 365–85 record at Northwest Missouri since 2009 while also winning 10 consecutive Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association championships.
Kimble is another D2 coach who could be on the rise and already has a tangible connection to Charlotte. Before his move to Miami’s staff last season, he spent four years on the Niners’ staff assisting Sanchez after also working as an assistant at William & Mary and UNC Asheville.
The person who ultimately gets hired for the job will inherit a team that finished fifth (9-11) in last year’s Conference USA standings and is looking for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005.