Lutz fired after 12 seasons at Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte fired coach Bobby Lutz on Monday after his 12th year at his alma mater was marred by a late-season collapse and a costly blunder in a first-round loss in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Chancellor Philip Dubois said in a statement that the move was in the "long-term interest of 49ers basketball and the university as a whole." Lutz leaves as the school's all-time winningest coach with a 218-158 mark and with four years left on his contract.

"This was an extremely difficult decision and not one that was made lightly or in haste," athletic director Judy Rose said. "Bobby has been an important part of the 49ers family and represented our university in a most positive manner. Our expectations for our program are high and our goal is to strive to be in the upper echelon of the Atlantic 10 with an opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament on a regular basis."

Lutz was promoted to coach in 1998 after three years as an assistant and led the 49ers to the NCAA tournament in five of his first seven seasons. But the 49ers haven't been back since 2005.

Lutz didn't immediately return a message left on his cell phone, but released a statement through the school.

"It has been a privilege and pleasure to coach at UNC Charlotte, my alma mater," Lutz said. "I have been truly blessed and will forever bleed green."

The move would have seemed improbable barely a month ago, when the 49ers knocked off Temple and moved into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10. With a roster full of newcomers, Lutz had seemingly turned things around after Rose said over the summer that Lutz faced a "critical year" after going 11-20 in 2008-09.

But Charlotte soon went into a free-fall, losing seven of its last eight games to miss out on the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year. The 49ers also failed to get a bid to the NIT on Sunday.

And Lutz's last game will be memorable for an embarrassing gaffe.

Trailing Massachusetts by three with under a minute left in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament at home, the 49ers had the ball and called a timeout. But they came out of the huddle with six players and when play began they were called for a technical foul.

UMass, which entered 11-19 and the 11th seed, hit both free throws and went on to post the upset.

"You'd think a guy with three undergraduate degrees and two graduate degrees could count to five, but obviously I didn't," Lutz said after the game, which left Charlotte 19-12.

Lutz's assistants were also fired on Monday, and the school said a search for a replacement would begin immediately.

"Our fans, especially the students who are dear to my heart, have been tremendous and a source of inspiration for me," Lutz said. "They deserve the best and that is my hope for them."