Chattanooga native Will Healy doesn’t want to stay sidelined for long

Charlotte Athletics photo / Will Healy guided Charlotte to its first winning season and bowl appearance in 2019 and to a win over Duke in 2021, but he was fired last Sunday following this year’s 1-7 start.

Last weekend was easily the worst of Will Healy's coaching career.

His struggling Charlotte 49ers took the field for homecoming against Florida International and imploded, throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice in a 34-15 loss that was 34-0 at one point. He had a Sunday meeting scheduled with Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill but learned via Twitter before entering Hill's office that he already had been fired.

Then came the gatherings with his assistants and his players to inform them of the news, with Healy's wife Emily accompanying him to offer support, but the roughest part of the weekend was having to explain the situation to his oldest child, Eli, who is in second grade.

"I thought he already knew because everybody else did, and he says, 'At least we play Rice this week, and we beat them last year in overtime,'" Healy said. "I said, 'Buddy, I got fired. I don't have a job at Charlotte anymore.' He just looked at me with these eyes and was like, 'You mean I don't get to go to the stadium anymore? You mean I don't get to see the other coaches' kids?'

"He goes to school on Monday and hears that I've been fired and all that stuff. It was tough. It just breaks your heart."

While the 49ers have prepared in recent days for their trip to Houston, the 37-year-old Healy is unemployed for the first time. Once a Boyd Buchanan quarterback who guided the Buccaneers to the TSSAA Class A state title game in 2002, Healy had just finished his playing career at Richmond University when he was given the chance to return to his hometown in 2009 as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's quarterbacks coach under new hire Russ Huesman.

Healy moved to receivers coach and became the recruiting coordinator for the Mocs during the 2010-15 seasons, and he jumped at the opportunity to become Austin Peay's head coach in 2016. The Governors had lost 16 consecutive games and were arguably the worst team in all of Division I football, and Healy would go 0-11 in his first season.

In 2017, however, Austin Peay went 8-4 to earn Healy national coaching honors in the Football Championship Subdivision. He would parlay that success to the Charlotte vacancy and guided the 49ers to their one and only winning season and bowl appearance in 2019.

Charlotte opened its 2021 season by defeating Duke, which was the first Power Five win in program history, but the 49ers unraveled late last season and were 1-7 out of the gate this year.

"I spent the first six years of my career at Austin Peay and Charlotte trying to convince fans and boosters that I wasn't going to leave to take the next Power Five job," Healy said. "In six months, it changed to answering questions about how I'm going to keep my job. We did a bunch of really cool things, but at the end of the day, we didn't produce enough this year.

"You've got to be prepared for that in this profession, and now it's, 'What's next?' I know I want to keep doing it. It's just about the best opportunity for our family."

Healy memorably showed up in scuba gear in December 2019 to announce that his team had been invited to the Bahamas Bowl, but the momentum from that season was halted by the coronavirus outbreak of 2020, when the 49ers played six games but had nine instances of contests being canceled or postponed.

"That was not a great experience for our student-athletes or our coaches," he said.

Last year's win over Duke was part of a 4-2 start that included a respectable 24-14 loss at Illinois, but the 49ers went 1-5 down the stretch, allowing at least 38 points in all five of those losses. This year's Charlotte defense ranks last among the 131 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, surrendering 523.5 yards and 43.3 points per game.

Healy and his wife spent the middle of this week visiting Skip and Jennifer Holtz. Skip compiled a 152-121 record at Connecticut, East Carolina, South Florida and Louisiana Tech but was fired at USF and Louisiana Tech, which has given the Healys someone to turn to for advice.

"It was 9 o'clock the other morning when both kids were at school, and I was like, 'What the heck do I do now?' I felt like I was skipping school," Healy said. "I'm going to visit a bunch of places. I'm going to visit Clemson and Georgia and the Los Angeles Rams, and I'm going to sit in the back of the room and see how these guys do it. I've eventually got to pick the right situation, but I've got to get back to work. I'm not interested in taking a year off.

"It's not getting fired that's bothering me. It's not getting to help those guys try to win these next four weeks. That bothers me."

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