Biff Poggi (“POE-jee”) certainly didn’t take the conventional way toward his first college head coaching job, but he is hoping to try to reshape what he feels is a broken system in college football.
Poggi, who turns 63 in June, is entering his first season as the head coach of Charlotte after serving as associate head coach at Michigan the previous two seasons, his second stint at the Big 10 school.
“College football to me, the model is broken,” Poggi said in an interview with HERO Sports. “Coaches make $10 million a year, they can go wherever they want to go, and they go into people’s homes and make all kinds of promises and the promises are rarely kept.”
He said that is why the transfer portal is overcrowded in these changing times.
“Kids are looking for a man they can trust and many times the minute they get on campus, nothing you said was true and it crushes them,” Poggi said. “Everybody wants a coach that has their best interest in mind and tells them the truth, that’s all, and if that happens, they will do anything for you.”
Most coaches don’t have 37 years of experience as a hedge fund manager to draw on, but that is just one of the deep reservoirs of knowledge that Poggi brings to Charlotte. The 49ers are among six teams that will be moving this season from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.
Poggi spent short stints as a college assistant at Brown, Temple, and The Citadel, but he made his true mark as a head coach in the high school ranks. He was an assistant and then a successful head coach at his alma mater, the Gilman School in Baltimore. As head coach, he guided the team to 13 state championships in 19 years. He then was hired in 2016 at Michigan and spent a year as associate head coach to Jim Harbaugh.
Poggi then returned as a high school head coach at St. Frances, a predominantly Black private school in Baltimore. Through his years as a highly successful hedge fund manager, Poggi invested millions of dollars in the school and also built a football powerhouse.
He left when Harbaugh called him again and served the past two seasons as associate head coach at Michigan, where the Wolverines won back-to-back Big 10 championships.
Poggi has enjoyed a lot of initial success in recruiting players to Charlotte. He said by the time the season begins he should have more than 40 players join the 49ers from the transfer portal.
He must have some recruiting pitch.
“I call it an anti-recruiting pitch,” he said. “When they sit down, it will be the most bizarre recruiting pitch they will have.”
He said in his mind, there is one key to recruiting.
“Coaches have the ability to tell kids what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear,” he said.
So Poggi pulls no punches.
“They are not going to be promised any playing time, they are not going to be promised any money,” he said. “They have to go to class, we class check, and I make them do 10 hours a week in study hall whether they like it or not.”
There is much more.
“In addition, all recruits must take a three-hour-a-week financial literacy class and instead of playing video games in their discretionary period, they are going to get an internship down in the city,” Poggi said.
He and his staff have arranged internships with the business community of Charlotte, which is considered the second-largest financial industry city in the United States after New York.
“Charlotte is a booming city, and I don’t think it makes sense to coach a Division I football team, the only one in the city like this, and not having it tied into the business community,” he said.
Charlotte reintroduced football in 2013 and it spent two seasons competing as an FCS independent program before joining Conference USA in 2015.
In eight seasons at the FBS level, the 49ers have had one winning campaign, 7-6 in 2019. Charlotte is coming off a 3-9 season.
Poggi’s hiring has drawn excitement. There were an estimated 5,250 attending the spring game.
How the team will fare with so many new players is anybody’s guess.
Dual-threat quarterback Jalen Jones, a transfer from Bethune-Cookman, is among the many key newcomers.
One thing that is interesting is that Poggi, through his successful years in business, doesn’t need the income from coaching. He is doing it to give back, and that is because the Gilman School turned his life around.
“I was in eight schools before the 11th grade and I was always in trouble, playing hooky, I was in fights,” he said. “And then the man who changed my life was a man named Redmond Finney.”
Finney was the headmaster at the Gilman School and told Poggi he believed in him, accepted him to the school, and it turned his life around.
“The guy was a great believer in kids and that is how I modeled my coaching,” he said. “And while my father was a man of no means, he was a guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”
So Poggi, a father of six, has done the same over the years, giving plenty of shirts off his back to players.
He sees coaching at Charlotte as a way to give back but also to take on a major challenge in his first college head coaching job. And one thing is for sure, Poggi will be doing it his way, all the way.
“We will see if this model works,” he said. “We could go 0-12 and I could be fired, and I will go fishing. But if it does work, it is a way to reconstruct an incredibly broken box.”