Biff Poggi, Charlotte look to silence doubters in new conference

The 49ers were picked by media members to finish last in the AAC standings

Charlotte running back Shadrick Byrd, center, is expected to be the 49ers’ top ball carrier in the team’s first year under new coach Biff Poggi. (Brian Westerholt / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — Biff Poggi left quite a mark at last week’s American Athletic Conference Media Days — a symbolic one but also possibly an actual mark as he pounded his hand on the lectern, frustrated at what he perceived as a lack of respect for his team.

The first-year Charlotte football coach wasn’t exactly thrilled that the conference’s media members had just picked his team to finish dead last in the 2023 AAC media preseason poll.

He also wasn’t too pleased with the limited questions he received from the press.

“That’s it? Three questions? Maybe that’s because you have us ranked last, that’s all what you think of us. So, we get that message, thank you,” the impassioned 63-year-old told reporters, slapping the lectern a few times before giving it a final, defiant knock and walking away.

Poggi’s press conference reaction was more than just a coach sticking up for his players. It was the sound of a culture shift and the changing of the guard for a football team that has limped to an unsightly 29-62 record in nine years as a program.

While former coach Will Healy was affable and mild-mannered, Poggi is a boisterous and commanding presence with fiery confidence that the Niners will make some noise in the AAC this fall.

Coming off a 3-9 record in Conference USA, Charlotte is now one of six new teams in the AAC, joining fellow newcomers UAB, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and UTSA, as well as continuing members East Carolina, Memphis, Navy, South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane and Tulsa.

The 49ers are now led by the former Pitt player (and teammate of Dan Marino) who spent the past few seasons as an associate head coach at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh.

Before joining the Wolverines, Poggi built up a reputation as a premier high school coach at Baltimore’s Gilman School and Saint Frances Academy while also managing a separate career as a successful hedge fund manager.

For the Niners, it doesn’t hurt that Poggi already has the lived experience of building a football team from the ground up. As the founder of Saint Frances Academy’s football program, he personally funded 65 scholarships as the school became a regional powerhouse that was chronicled in the HBO documentary “The Cost of Winning.”

At this point, Poggi is all-in on the idea of giving Charlotte football a fresh reboot and a launchpad on which to build.

He has made a verbal distinction between the 49ers of last year and this year.

“We’re not some Conference USA team coming into this league. We’re a totally different team,” Poggi said at AAC Media Days. “We brought in 52 players. After spring practice, we kept 52 that we really liked off our team. We think we’re prepared for this conference, but we’ll let our play speak for itself.”

There is also a lot of familiarity between Charlotte’s new coach and new players.

“I think 24 of our 52 new guys actually played for me at St. Francis and have come from Power Five schools. These are, in my opinion, some of the finest players around,” Poggi added.

Poggi has said he intends to make Charlotte a physical, run-heavy football team that can also stop the run. The Niners finished 10th in C-USA last season in both rushing yards per game (116.1) and rushing yards allowed per game (205.8).

Redshirt junior and projected starting running back Shadrick Byrd impressed in the team’s Green vs. White spring game. After leading the 49ers in rushing yardage last season, he looks to be a primary ball carrier yet again on a young running back corps that also includes freshmen Durell Robinson and Terron Kellman.

Dual-threat quarterback Jalon Jones is one of eight transfer additions who have already earned a starting role on offense, per an offseason depth chart. The theme extends to the defense, where seven new players appear to be in starting roles.