UPDATE (Nov. 29, 3 p.m.): It was reported on Wednesday that JMU football head coach Mike Houston met with three members of Charlotte Athletics in person on Tuesday morning at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, according to a source familiar with the situation. Blake Pace of The Breeze was the first to report.
REPORT | According to a source familiar with the situation, #JMU head coach Mike Houston met with three members of Charlotte Athletics at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Harrisonburg on Tuesday morning. pic.twitter.com/4loXaJ31ns— Blake Pace (@BlakeAndrewPace) November 29, 2018
This coincides with Houston's statement that he spoke with 49ers' Athletic Director Mike Hill on Tuesday, saying that he was "interested" in the head coaching position.
It also became official Thursday morning that East Carolina football had fired its former head coach, Scottie Montgomery. Atop the list of rumored candidates is Houston.
Sources indicating that East Carolina is targeting JMU's Mike Houston for its head coaching job. He has told media in Virginia he's been offered Charlotte. A fascinating stare down is happening.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) November 29, 2018
According to JMU Athletics, Houston has "not accepted the offer" to coach at Charlotte just yet. Should the current JMU coach choose to move to ECU, the contract buyout would jump up to $750,000.
JMU football head coach Mike Houston is interested in the possibility of leaving JMU after this season for the same position at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports was first to report.
"I was contacted on Sunday by Charlotte 49ers' Athletic Director Mike Hill," Houston said. "We had a great conversation. I listened to him. I talked to him again on Tuesday. I told him I was interested in the job."
Houston, 47, has spent three seasons at JMU, accumulating a record of 37-5 (22-2 CAA). He led the Dukes to a 2016 FCS National Championship win along with an appearance in the 2017 championship game in addition to consecutive CAA regular-season titles.
"It's unfortunate," Houston said. "It's just the reality of college football right now. With the national signing day being moved up into December, institutions have obviously sped up their process toward going after different candidates for different reasons."
Houston, a North Carolina native, played and coached football in his home state. Previous coaching gigs at Lenoir-Rhyne kept him close to home, and he never strayed too far from North Carolina, coaching in South Carolina and Virginia. Charlotte's proximity to home played a key role in his interest in the position.
"It is two-and-a-half hours from my parents and my family," Houston said. "And there's personal reasons as to why that's important to me."
JMU Athletics inked Houston to a 10-year contract extension in December 2017, holding him in Harrisonburg through the 2027 season. Following the deal, Houston issued the following statement about the university.
"James Madison is a special place. Amanda, our boys and I want to be here and consider this home," Houston said. "JMU approached me in the second half of the regular season to discuss an extended contract … I've turned down opportunities at the FBS level, and I did it because I believe in James Madison University ... I am committed to ensuring that the JMU football program is one that is a reflection of our outstanding institution. I'm committed to staying here because JMU is different."
Contractually, Houston's buyout is $500,000 for leaving the Dukes for a Conference USA program prior to Jan. 31, 2020. Despite the rumors and reports, Houston is thankful for the players, coaches and administrators he's worked alongside at James Madison.
"James Madison University, I have been blessed to have the opportunity to be the head coach here," Houston said. "I am still the head coach here. I've been fortunate enough to be around the best young men that I could ever have the possibility to be around. I have loyal coaches and I have a great administration."
JMU Athletics released a statement regarding the coaching rumors via email following the Dukes' practice Wednesday afternoon.
"We are aware that Mike Houston has been offered the head coaching job at Charlotte and that he addressed the offer with local media after Wednesday’s practice. At this point he has not accepted the offer. We expect Mike to coach JMU on Saturday at Colgate."
Houston would take over for Brad Lambert, who compiled a 12-36 (8-24 Conference USA) in four seasons in Charlotte — the first four FBS seasons of the program’s history. Charlotte fired Lambert back on Nov. 18. The 49ers are coming off their best year, finishing with a 5-7 (4-4 CUSA) mark.
It’s expected that Houston will finish out the season with the Dukes, who travel to Hamilton, New York, to play No. 8 Colgate for the second round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday. Houston is only focused on the current team he represents.
"The big thing that I want is I want [the players] to have the opportunity to compete on Saturday at a very high level with all of us being together," Houston said. "That's my focus this week, and not anything else."
Catie Harper contributed to this report.
Contact Blake Pace & Kevin Haswell at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter at @TheBreezeSports.