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January 14, 2013As the spring semester begins at UNC Charlotte, everyone's getting back to work. That includes the Head Coach of the Charlotte 49ers football team Brad Lambert. Walking through the field house, it doesn't seem like anything has skipped a beat. Players are scattered throughout the building, some arriving for their workouts, others in meetings with coaches.
Everyone in the building, from the receptionist to the coaching staff, are plugging away to start the semester strong. The 49ers are roughly eight months away from the kickoff of their inaugural season, and while most fans recognize that plenty of work and effort goes into preparing a team for game day, they may not realize the meticulous preparation that this entire coaching staff goes through year round.
In Coach Lambert's office sits a mobile white board, on it is a bountiful collection of magnets and writing. It's all too complex for a random person to simply understand after a glance, for this white board's the perfect illustration of what the football program's schedule looks like for the next couple months.
Coach Lambert is preparing for the recruiting phase of the offseason. Many coaches across the country are doing the same, with their whiteboard-on-wheels sitting in their office displaying depth charts, team improvement needs, and all of their staff's input.
With that, Coach Lambert sat down with NinerReport to discuss what's ahead.
NinerReport: With your stint at Charlotte beginning, have you developed a particular coaching identity?
Brad Lambert: Well I've always been strict with the guys. I preach discipline and accountability; I think that translates to the field, and executing on Saturdays. So that's kind of how I've always seen myself, I like us to be in the right place at the right time. But you know it hasn't really evolved fully yet because we don't have our full team yet.
NR: One of the challenges of starting a program at any school is the young and inexperienced players. What's different for you having to handle the lack of seniority?
Lambert: I think the biggest thing for us is we've had to take those roles as coaches, because we don't have older players. We have to make sure the kids know what we want done, so that's been an emphasis for us, and really a learning experience for everybody because we have so many young guys. The old guys we do have, some transfers to the team, have done a nice job after being at other programs. We have added three new guys [Mikel Hunter, Caleb Clayton-Molby, CJ Crawford] this semester, so they'll help us going forward; that was a focus of this recruiting class, getting some older guys. We've had to dish out our share of humble pie, that's for sure.
NR: Handling the offseason, do you follow a strict schedule or do you just roll with the punches?
Lambert: We're in the recruiting process with the coaches right now, and for the team it's all about getting in the weight room, and offseason conditioning. That'll be a pretty tight regiment over the next two months, and then we'll role into spring practice, we'll be back on the field with them, executing our offense and defense. This time of the year, over the next few months is really all about strength and conditioning, and building our base for the 2013 season.
NR: Most fans don't realize the work that is put in during the offseason, what are some of the major tasks that come after the recruiting process?
Lambert: After the recruiting process, the biggest thing we'll do is conditioning on the field and be out there with our guys. We'll just continue what we developed in the fall, we'll continue with our player development, as far as our execution with the offense, defense, and kicking teams. That's the next major step for us, when we come out of the weight room full time. As we move past signing day, then we go on the field with the guys again, and kind of evolve into that practice mode, gaining that execution and conditioning.
NR: Most at Charlotte recognize your stint with Wake Forest, but you have a pretty storied resume as an assistant with stints at Georgia, Marshall and even some work at Oklahoma. How has coaching at multiple established programs prepared you for ushering in a football culture at Charlotte?
Lambert: I think the biggest thing is that you learn from people you've been around, you take bits and pieces from the different places that you've been, and apply them. I've always looked at them, knowing when I had the opportunity to be a head coach, that's the biggest thing you can take from those programs. You also have to set a high standard, the one thing that the University of Oklahoma, University of Georgia, even what we established at Wake Forest is to set a high standard and a high expectation for your team. That's what we've done here, you know we don't expect to fail; we've set a high bar for our guys, and I think that's the biggest thing you can take from those programs, they have a high expectation level when they take the field, and we expect to do that here. But those are all great schools and universities that we've learned from in the past.
NinerReport: Is there anyone from the past, that you look back at as a mentor figure, to help you become a head coach?
Brad Lambert: Coach [Jim] Grobe obviously was the most recent, that was a unique situation at Wake Forest because the tradition there wasn't really good, and we raised the expectation there. For me right now, we don't have any history, and yet we still expect to do well. So I think establishing our brand and our University with the way we play will be very critical. So leaning on what we did at Wake Forest and Coach Grobe's probably the thing that I rely on the most.
NR: Looking down the road, what are some of the goals you have for the start of the fall season?
Lambert: Well I think the biggest thing for us is, and I mentioned this as we started [Wednesday] and I talked to the guys about the season starting today, we don't just show up in August and get ready for August 31, that all starts today. That way when we do get there and move through the season, execution is the easy part. If we do a good job over the next seven months, then our expectation of being successful in the win-loss category next fall will really be greatly enhanced. That's why this period is so critical for us, like I've said all along, we expect to do well and have high goals for our team next fall.
NR: From all of the scrimmaging and work put in this last fall, what did you learn about the team? What were some of the major strengths and weaknesses you concluded with?
Lambert: Well when we first took the job, we really set out to build our team from the inside out, that being from our offensive and defensive line. We were really pleased with the way those guys played this fall, I thought they exceeded my expectations with how hard they play, how fast they play. They're really good kids, and I was really pleased with them coming out of the fall. I thought we could build our team around that; they set the tone for us daily by the way they play and the way they work. So that's probably been the best thing for me looking back on the fall, is we set a goal of establishing our team there and I think we have.
NR: Staying on the subject of the fall scrimmages, did any players end up impressing you the most?
Lambert: Larry Ogunjobi is a guy that really had a good fall for us, and playing nose guard is such a critical position for our defense. He's really had a good fall, so we need for him to continue to build and mature, and do those things. We also had skills guys show up and do a good job, Austin Duke, Ja'quil Capel, Alan Barnwell I thought had a good fall. We've got impact guys at those positions, but now we need to continue to build our depth, and continue to bring those guys along. The starters need to develop, but the depth behind it does as well. That's the biggest issue for us, is trying to put age on our team. I think we're in a good spot, we're just hitting a real critical period for us right now, over these next three or four months leading into August. It's an important time to establish where we'll be next fall.
NR: Are you satisfied with the play of the quarterbacks so far, and would you put a freshman quarterback on the field Aug 31?
Lambert: We don't have any choice right now; the number one thing about all three of those guys is that they're quality people. They're all somebody that I can go to sleep at night knowing that it really matters to them, and that's the key. Nobody has really emerged as the guy yet, I think coming out of spring we'll figure out who that is. The thing that's nice about those three is they're good people that you feel comfortable about them handling the ball every snap, so that's really big to me.