'Humbled' Major introduced at Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Alan Major was 13 years old when his mother, Mary, knew he was destined to be a basketball coach.

"He was like the Pied Piper. He'd go out in the driveway by himself and in a few minutes all these kids would be around," she said. "He would be giving them pointers on how to play the game."

Twenty-eight years later, a proud Mary Major sat in the front row as her son was given his first head coaching job on Monday, charged with getting Charlotte back into the NCAA tournament after a five-year absence.

The 41-year-old Major spent the past nine seasons working for Thad Matta, the first three at Xavier and the past six at Ohio State. He's credited with helping develop Greg Oden and other big men in his coaching stops.

And now he has a program of his own as he replaces Bobby Lutz, who was fired last month after 12 seasons.

Major signed a five-year deal that athletic director Judy Rose said guarantees him $450,000 annually, with incentives that could boost his pay to more than $600,000 a year.

But for Major, who said he was "humbled and excited," it comes down to teaching the game, just like he began doing as a teenager growing up in Indianapolis.

"We had this backyard court and all of a sudden you'd find a kid three or four years younger than you and you're trying to tell him how to play the game," said Major, dressed in a dark suit and a green tie. "I had no idea then that this would be the result of that."

Rose's search was focused mostly on assistants from major conference schools. Syracuse's Mike Hopkins was contacted, along with Pat Kelsey of Xavier, and Kansas assistant and former East Carolina head coach Joe Dooley.

But Rose said she quickly focused on Major, traveling to Milwaukee to watch him on the sidelines during Ohio State's first- and second-round NCAA tournament games last month.

Rose said she first talked to him then. He was one of four candidates to interview for the job on the Sunday of the Final Four, where she said "he rose to the top."

Rose's decision was made after an eight-hour, on-campus interview Thursday. He accepted the job on Friday.

"The only candidate offered this job was Alan Major," Rose said.

Major inherits a program that started 18-5 last season before a 1-7 finish left the 49ers without an NCAA tournament or NIT bid. Charlotte last made the NCAA tournament in 2005.

"Our goal is to put Charlotte in its rightful place," said Major, who indicated he wanted a defense-first team.

Major took a different route to coaching. He didn't play college basketball, serving as a team manager at Purdue under Gene Keady. After graduating in 1992, he worked as an assistant at Pacific and Southern Illinois under now-Illinois coach Bruce Weber.

Working under Matta, Ohio State reached the 2007 NCAA championship game. The Buckeyes reached the round of 16 this year before getting upset by Tennessee.

Major will replace Charlotte's longest-serving and winningest coach. Lutz went 218-158 with five NCAA tournament appearances and two Conference USA tournament titles at a school that struggles to be noticed in the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference country.

But the 49ers struggled since the breakup of Conference USA in 2005, when they were separated from rivals Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and Marquette.

Charlotte, which doesn't have football, switched to the Northeast-dominated Atlantic 10, and Lutz acknowledged he had trouble recruiting players from his Southern base to play in that league. The 49ers have not reached the NCAA tournament and have two NIT bids since joining the A-10.

"The beauty of Charlotte is the state of North Carolina is loaded [with prospects]," Major said. "We have to earn the right to make a kid look at Charlotte if they're looking at ACC schools.

"We're not an ACC school, but we're going to operate like a first-class program."

Lutz's recruiting improved before his ouster, and Major inherits big men Shamari Spears, Chris Braswell and Phil Jones, forwards K.J. Sherrill and An'Juan Wilderness and guard Derrio Green.

"It was definitely tough to learn about coach Lutz," Spears said. "I'm going to do what's best for my team and make the best out of it."

Major, who told his players they had a "clean slate" in a meeting Sunday, kept repeating that he'd get a chance to work out his new players on Tuesday.

His mother wasn't surprised, recalling when her son was in college and returned home one day to see his late father had installed a security light near the basketball goal.

"He asked his dad, 'Why didn't you put that security light out here when I was home?' And he said, 'Because you never would have come in the house," she said. "The law was when it gets dark you've got to come in.

"See, he just loves the game of basketball."