Will Healy's second Charlotte 49ers football team has practiced several times already this spring, laying the foundation for a 2020 season that opens Sept. 5 with a trip to Tennessee's Neyland Stadium.
The Volunteers closed last season with six straight wins that included a Gator Bowl triumph over Indiana, but Healy isn't using February to focus on his first foe.
"We're not going to put too much into the Tennessee game," Healy said. "It's not that hard figuring out what they have coming back. It's a top-20 team in the country, and we're playing them at their place. The hype will be enough when that game gets closer, so I don't need to add to it during spring practice."
Healy, the former Boyd Buchanan quarterback, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga receivers coach and Austin Peay head coach, will be the featured speaker Tuesday, March 3, at the annual "Night of Impact Banquet" benefiting the local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The event will be held at the Colonnade Center in Ringgold.
Charlotte and Tennessee had identical 7-5 regular seasons last year, including matching 2-5 marks before their flourishing finishes. The turnaround by the 49ers resulted in the first postseason invitation in program history, with Charlotte and Buffalo getting paired in the Bahamas Bowl.
Buffalo overwhelmed the 49ers 31-9, and Healy had to replace three assistant coaches in the weeks that followed.
"We'll watch some film of Tennessee, but we've had some transition with our staff and with some new players, so we've got to fix us," Healy said. "We've got plenty of time. We also can't put too much into one game. We started to have some success last year when we pulled back the reins and started focusing on what was going on in house and the process of what goes on from week to week.
"I used to think that was a cliché, but now that I've lived it, I believe in it."
Charlotte's 2020 staff includes new offensive coordinator Mark Carney, former Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty as receivers coach and four assistants who worked with Healy for UTC's Mocs — Adam Braithwaite, Brandon Cooper, Sean Dawkins and Marcus West.
The 49ers must replace three players — offensive tackle Cameron Clark, defensive end Alex Highsmith and running back Benny LeMay — who received invitations to this week's NFL combine in Indianapolis. That's a significant loss for the Conference USA program, but Charlotte does return quarterback Chris Reynolds and has added running back Tre Harbison, a graduate transfer coming off two straight 1,000-yard seasons at Northern Illinois.
"Our talent from top to bottom and the competitive depth that we've been looking for has been good," Healy said. "We're moving at a different pace, and I like watching our new coaches. I haven't seen a whole lot of complacency, and we shouldn't be complacent.
"We went 7-6 and got our butts kicked in our bowl game, but any time you do something for a first time, you do wonder about that."
The FCA's "Night of Impact Banquet" has very little room remaining. For information on obtaining a table to the event, visit ChattanoogaFCA.org or contact Jay Fowler at 423-309-4255.
"I hope everyone who joins us understands that I've had every cardinal sin in the book," Healy said, "but I'm excited to talk about the impact that FCA has had in my life. I had a spiritual background at Boyd-Buchanan, which helped me grow, and the FCA was a huge part of my life in high school. I was involved when I went to Richmond, and that continued as a coach in Chattanooga, Austin Peay and here.
"It's amazing the impact that FCA has made in the lives of so many athletes — the opportunities it brings and the relationships it builds. It's had a tremendous impact on my life."