Charlotte was, believe it or not, a sneaky pick to compete in the Atlantic 10 this season. The 49ers were more competitive than you might remember last season; they were 18-5 through Feb. 6 before collapsing and losing seven of their last eight games.
That stretch was the straw that broke Bobby Lutz's back (or some similar metaphor therein), but the 49ers returned almost all of the talent that got them to 18-5 last season, and it wasn't entirely unreasonable -- maybe just moderately so -- to see Charlotte as an A-10 dark horse and potential NCAA tournament team.
Not anymore. The 49ers have struggled in their first season under former Ohio State assistant Alan Major, going 4-6 in their first 10 games, and losing those six games to teams you'd be generous to describe as marginal. Charlotte has lost at home to Gardner-Webb, on neutral sites to George Mason and Coastal Carolina, and on the road to Oregon State, East Carolina and Davidson. It's lost pretty much everywhere you can lose, and it's lost to teams that no dark horse could ever justify.
And now, the 49ers lose again. Today, Charlotte announced via a release that forward Shamari Spears has been dismissed from the team. Spears had been indefinitely suspended for a violation of team rules before the team's Nov. 27 game versus Radford. Now he's gone for good. Ouch.
Spears is a former Boston College transfer who earned third-team all-conference honors and became Charlotte's most important player last season, a high-usage scorer who contributed solid offensive rebounding and got to the line frequently. Through his five pre-suspension games in 2010, Spears was again leading the 49ers in scoring with 17 points per game. He was shooting 42.9 percent from 3. He will no doubt be missed.
If there's a silver lining here, it's this: Charlotte is rebuilding. Its first-year coach is attempting to remake the program from the ground up. The 49ers are already awful, and all these early losses have already closed the window on a non-miraculous postseason berth. That has to be liberating -- at this point, Major has nothing to lose.
Well, except a bunch more games. There's that. But Charlotte was already losing those anyway.