Charlotte 49ers’ head coach Biff Poggi intends to make an impact far beyond the football field

By Hunter Bailey

October 12, 2023

Biff Poggi, a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager turned college football head coach, has big plans for the Charlotte 49ers’ football program. Diving into Poggi’s vision requires a look at his diverse background, ranging from finance and education to playing and coaching.

In Poggi’s playing career, he was one of four players from his senior class at Gilman High School in Baltimore, Maryland to receive a college football scholarship. He committed to Pittsburgh, where he would play with future NFL stars Hugh Green, Mark May and Dan Marino. A career cut short by a knee injury changed things for Poggi, but it came to be a blessing in disguise, meeting the love of his life at his next stop.

Biff Poggi coaching at his alma mater Gilman High in Baltimore, Maryland in 2011. Photo: Cal Sport Media / AP

Poggi finished his history degree at Duke University in 1984, where he met his wife and the mother of their five children, Amy. Biff put his degree to use following graduation, spending time teaching European history before starting a lucrative career as a hedge fund manager with his father-in-law. Poggi’s company, Samuel James Limited, was founded in 1986. Three decades later, Poggi turned the firm, then worth hundreds of millions of dollars, over to multiple former players.

Though asset management changed the trajectory of Poggi’s life, he never strayed far from the gridiron– or family. Poggi started his coaching career as an assistant at Brown in 1987, making stops at The Citadel and Temple before returning to his alma mater, Gilman High School, to coach his three sons in 1988. He accepted a promotion to become head coach at Gilman in 1995, and went on to win 13 conference titles in 19 seasons. In 2016, Poggi made a jump to the collegiate ranks, joining his good friend Jim Harbaugh’s staff as his right-hand man and associate head coach– again joining his son Henry, who was a fullback for the Wolverines. 

Biff Poggi served as an assistant coach under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan prior to his arrival in Charlotte. Photo: University of Michigan

After just one season in Ann Arbor, Poggi was on the move again to Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore, the first and oldest continually operating Black Catholic school in the United States. Poggi and his wife Amy poured in upwards of $2.5 million of their own money to completely fund and rejuvenate the program– including covering teachers’ salaries, tuition, scholarships, and housing for his players and staff. But it wasn’t just the on-field results Poggi desired; it was the rebuilding of a broken community.

“I see Saint Frances as a drop of dye in the bucket of Baltimore, and it’s going to spread, and we’re going to do it one kid at a time, one year at a time, one team at a time,” Poggi told ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski in August of 2018. “We’re going to level the playing field. We’re going to send them to college, they’re going to get their degrees, and then they’re going to come back and make a difference.”

Biff Poggi coached at Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore from 2017 to 2020, the first and oldest Black Catholic school in the United States. Photo: Courtesy of HBO (‘The Cost of Winning’) 

He turned Saint Frances into a national powerhouse, serving as head coach from 2017 to 2020 before returning to his previous role at Michigan, where he’s credited for playing a major role in the Wolverines’ turnaround.

The Athletic called Poggi the “most interesting man in coaching,” and Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill took note during the Wolverines’ College Football Playoff run in 2022, and extended him a head coaching offer.

“I really see him as an accelerant to our program and a differentiator that we need as a young program,” Hill told the Charlotte Observer. “We’re competing with 100-year-old football programs, you know. So how can we disrupt things? I see him as maybe the ultimate disruptor[sic] of the status quo.”

Poggi accepted Hill’s offer to become the third head coach of the 49ers’ young program on November 15 of 2022, prior to the end of Charlotte’s 2022-23 season. Poggi’s Saint Frances pipeline proved fruitful from the moment he stepped in the Queen City, bringing a winning culture and a new caliber of talent to a program that’s seen just one winning season in ten years.

“Wherever he goes, I’ll go. He’s a winner. It’s that simple,” Charlotte defensive end and five-star talent Eyabi Okie-Anoma said of Poggi. Okie-Anoma was the third-ranked player in the nation coming out of Saint Frances in 2018 when he committed to Nick Saban and Alabama. Following multiple stops in college football, Okie-Anoma reunited with Poggi at Michigan in 2022 and elected to play his final year of college football with Poggi in Charlotte. 

Eyabi Okie-Anoma, the third-ranked player in the nation coming out of Saint Frances Academy in 2018 reunited with Poggi at Michigan in 2022 and followed him to Charlotte for his final season. Photo: Courtesy of Charlotte Athletics

Poggi signed a five-year contract with the 49ers in November of 2022, totaling $1 million for his first head coaching job at the collegiate level. He gave $500,000 back to the university to add to his staff’s salaries, and in doing so built a youthful group of coaches with star power potential, including coordinator Ryan Osborn and Greg Froelich.

Poggi is effectively the program’s CEO. The relationships from his asset management career, along with budding relationships in Charlotte’s industry– including ties with David Tepper and the Hornets’ new owners Gabe Plotkin and Rich Schnall– are paying dividends for the 49ers’ program.

UNC Charlotte chancellor Sharon Gaber (Left) and athletic director Mike Hill (right) with Charlotte 49ers head football coach Biff Poggi at the introductory press conference. Photo: Charlotte Athletics / Sam Roberts

“There’s a uniqueness here that, honestly, I didn’t know when I took the job. This is a really good school. The kids here get hired. They get jobs. There’s a great story here at the school academically,” Poggi said. “And then the internship relationships we’ve got– Bank of America is giving us 30 internships. It’s like every kid in the program is getting a paid internship. Who else can you say this about?”

Poggi considers Charlotte’s campus the “gem of the Southeast,” with bountiful opportunities for success both on and off the field.

“You have all this business here. Our financial literacy class here is unbelievable,” Poggi said. “I want us to be a consistently winning football program, and when I say winning, I don’t mean a winning record– I mean winning championships. I want us to be the school that the Power Five schools really don’t want to play.” 

Despite signing for five years, Poggi has a ten-year vision for the program that ends with him sitting in the raucous student section of a renovated Jerry Richardson Stadium. The stadium just took a major step towards doubling the capacity to 30,000 with a $25 million donation by Smoky and Margaret Bissell.

When it’s all said and done, Poggi wants to reflect on the program he helped build and watch a dominating 49ers’ victory led by a current assistant coach. 

Photo: Courtesy of Charlotte Athletics

“I’m 63. I’d like to coach here for 10 years. Then, I’d like to turn the program over to Kyle (DeVan), Ryan (Osborn) or Mike (Miller). I want to retain the staff. They have families, so we’ll have to pay them. And then, I’d like to be at every home game. Selfishly speaking, I want to be the father of a championship-winning program. That’s what I’d love to do.”

Charlotte’s relevance since Poggi’s hire has reached record marks, seeing a huge uptick in fan engagement following a troublesome 3-9 season in 2022 with an average attendance of 10,906. The average home attendance through two home games is 15,016 in a stadium that seats 15,300.

The 49ers’ first season in the American Athletic Conference has added a nationally televised element to the program with games on ESPN and ABC. Following up on HBO’s The Cost of Winning documentary, which focused on Poggi’s time at Saint Frances, the 49ers are currently the focal point of an ESPN+ docuseries Mining for Greatness, which includes multiple holdovers from Poggi’s time at Saint Frances, produced by Emmy Award-winner Mickey Holden.

On top of the added exposure, recruiting has found a new life post-Will Healy, with the addition of over 70 players to the roster through the high school ranks and the transfer portal, including 36 three-stars, 12 four-star, and one five-star player. And more help will be on the way when the transfer portal reopens this offseason.

A roster turnover like this has only been seen recently at schools like Colorado, where Hall of Famer Deion Sanders took over as head coach, but Poggi knows that Charlotte’s situation is more of a rebuild.

“We’re tearing down the foundation and starting with brick one. And we’ll get it done. If we do this right culturally, our players will never leave Charlotte,” he said. “I see this building a network of non-NFL football guys who played here and become serious leaders in this community.” 

Check out the remaining 2023-24 football schedule for the Charlotte 49ers.


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