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The Latest Dirt On the Head Coach Search

So much has been flying these days before Christmas it's been dizzying to keep up with it all. Here's my take on the latest developments in the Lehigh head coaching situation. Brace yourselves, this is going to be an awfully long post, but it's one you'll not want to miss.

[Updated with Paul Solokowski's column link & quotes - how did I miss that?]

(While I have no idea if former Lehigh head coach Kevin Higgins (picture to your left) is actually in the running for the head coaching job once again, at this hour it seems unlikely. Every indication is that he wants to remain at The Citadel to bring that program back to prominence.)

The Allentown Morning Call has featured three articles on the developing head coaching situation, and the Easton Express-Times has also reported some information as well. Here are the links to the articles:

Allentown Morning Call:
Groller: Shadow of Higgins Unfairly Haunted Lembo
Lembo Takes Over At Elon

Easton Express-Times:
Solokowski: Lembo Picks Best Time To Leave Mountain Hawks
Lembo Leaves Lehigh

Here's a little cross-section of what the press is saying:

"I knew the minute that I was promoted to head coach at Lehigh that because of the guy I was following, there was always going to be a small percentage, a vocal minority, that would never totally buy into what I did," Lembo told Adam Smith of the Burlington (N.C.) Times-News on Monday.

"I'm human, so I'm not going to say that never bothered me at all. But it was never a distraction."

He would forever hear, "Yeah, but he's no Higgins."

It's not a shock to anyone that as news of Lembo's exit became official, requests of "Bring back Kevin!" were launched in cyberspace.

Sterrett made it clear that none of that pressure came from within the Lehigh athletic department. But Lembo had to feel it everywhere else.

Virtually everyone who talks about Lembo said he was a great recruiter and a perfect salesman for the university.

Perfect as a coach? Nah.

But as athletic director Joe Sterrett said Monday, "Pete was unfairly undervalued in the grand scheme of things by more people than should have been the case. He did a lot of things very well, some of which were not particularly visible to most fans."

"When you lose to Lafayette three of the last four years, you wonder if that's going to trigger something; rumors start to fly," said wide receiver Frank Trovato, a Bethlehem Catholic grad who will be a senior next season.

"It will receive a mixed reaction from the rest of the team. I went through this between my junior and senior of high school. You never like to go through a complete change. I've become comfortable with the offense we run and I've learned a lot from my offensive coaches. I wouldn't want to see everyone go."

Quarterback Mark Borda, whose senior season was cut short by injury, said Lembo should be remembered for much more than just two disappointing losses to Lafayette the past two seasons.

"He taught his players a lot more than just football," Borda said. "Right now, everybody is dwelling on the loss to Lafayette, but when people look back on his career they'll remember his teams won a lot of games, got to the playoffs and won league championships. Hopefully, when he looks back on his time here, he will remember those things and not the Lafayette losses."

"But no one foresaw that Coach Lembo would be leaving," he said.

Now, some clamor for another ex-Higgins staffer, Dave Cecchini, who left Lehigh after 2002 to become the offensive coordinator at Harvard.

Next to the highly unlikely return of Higgins to Bethlehem, Cecchini would be the most popular choice of fans.

And the former LU star would stay popular, at least until he loses his first game.

[Lehigh AD Joe Sterrett] already received recommendations from Lembo, as well as others from outside the Lehigh community, and will consider applications from among the current coaching staff. Sources said wide receivers coach Adam Scheier, who's been with the program for four seasons, has expressed interest in the job and five-year veteran offensive line coach John Powers is expected to apply.

"The most important thing we're looking for is leadership," said Sterrett, who didn't set a deadline but hopes to fill Lembo's vacancy quickly.

"Sometimes the best decision is from within your organization, sometimes the best decision is from outside your organization," he said. "I'm willing to look at everything. As soon as you decide it's got to be a certain flavor, then you eliminate any other possibilities."

The Mountain Hawks won big before Lembo took over, they won while he was there, and they will be expected to win after he's gone -- whether or not Lembo's replacement comes from the current coaching staff or someone else's staff.

"I don't see why we would have to step back at all," Sterrett said. "We've had a successful program for a long time. We've won Patriot League championships with three different coaches. There are good foundation elements in place. I don't see any reason why we can't continue that."

The ever-critical Lehigh fans, who find every bit as much fault in victories as they do losses, won't settle for anything less. They're not looking for the next Pete Lembo. They're demanding a whole lot more.


I realize some of this is talking about coach Lembo and not the head coaching vacancy, but it does show to me that it was a decision that took many players by surprise. It also reveals that a lot of speculation is centering around Harvard offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini ('91), a former Lehigh player and coach. He may very well be considered the early frontrunner for the position.

Another fascinating tidbit that needs to be emphasized is that Lehigh AD Joe Sterrett ('76) is, for the first time in 20 years, considering head coaching candidates from 'outside the family'. Adding to the speculation is the following press release from LehighSports.com:

One of the immediate decisions I made upon Pete Lembo’s decision to accept the Elon offer was that we would conduct an open search, and would not make an immediate internal promotion. While I feel strongly about the quality of our assistant coaches, and I expect qualified internal candidates to compete for the opportunity to serve as head coach, I also felt that an open process would be healthy for our program at this point in time.

As is true with most coaching vacancies, the informal network of coach communications produces quite a bit of interest in any vacancy almost immediately. Some candidates apply directly while others are nominated by colleagues. I have tried to encourage all interested candidates to communicate initially by email so that I can manage the phone follow-up process in a more organized and efficient manner. Concurrently, we are conducting a proactive effort to identify prospective candidates that have not applied or been nominated.

...

The time framework for this search is to attract the best candidate we can identify in the shortest amount of time possible. The holiday period makes this objective a little more challenging to achieve. Nonetheless, we are planning and expect to conduct multiple interviews within the current week and more immediately after the Christmas holiday weekend.

The tight timing makes the use of a search committee less efficient. Accordingly, I will be coordinating all search activity. I will use a small group of primarily campus based personnel to help me evaluate candidates that we invite to visit. This group is diversified in terms of their Lehigh roles, and includes perspectives from students, staff, faculty, and alumni. However, the time of year and the ambitious schedule we have established make unrealistic the engagement of a broader group of participants.

I have appreciated the communications received from a number of alumni about our search, their recommendations, and their aspirations for our program. It is truly inspiring to experience the passion for Lehigh football that exists among our extended community. It is my sincere intent to hire an outstanding football coach so that we can sustain and advance the strong tradition of football success that so many have worked so hard to build. Achieving this outcome matters a great deal to me, professionally and personally, and so I appreciate the trust that has been assigned to me.

To me, this shows a few things. First of all, it's abundantly clear that Sterrett is considering folks from inside and outside the Lehigh "family". Second, the informal coaching network and alumni appear to be extremely active in putting names out there for head coaching possibilities. This by all indications seems to be a hot vacancy. I've never seen a press release like this for any coaching vacancy in recent memory. Not Georgia Southern, not Fordham, not even Temple.

Who do we have "inside the family"? There are a few names: some I've mentioned before, and some new ones. First, let's look at the internal candidates who have declared, or are expected to declare, their candidacy. They would know the challenges of recruiting and coaching Patriot League players inside and out -- which could be a big leg up in getting the position.

* Lehigh WR coach Adam Scheier. A four year coach under Lembo, he would give continuity to the offense and would presumably lead the same type of offense and keep at least some of the existing staff intact. Scheier has a reputation of being an outstanding recruiter, especially in NJ. How would be be, though, as a head coach?

* Lehigh offensive line coach John Powers. A five year coach under Lembo, I don't know a lot about him, though the quality of offensive linemen that Lehigh has been able to recruit to South Mountain has been outstanding. How would he be, though, as a head coach?

Next up, you have the candidates that are "inside the family, but would need to be brought back." These are candidates who are former Lehigh, or Patriot League, coaches who have moved elsewhere and would be possibilites to return as Lehigh's head coach. These guys also would know the challenges of recruiting Patriot Lague players.

* Harvard offensive coordinatior Dave Cecchini ('91). A former player who started coaching as a graduate assistant in '92, he has worked his way through the coaching ranks and is now at Harvard, where in 2004 he was the offensive architect of a perfect 10-0 season for the Crimson. I feel he would be a very popular choice for head coach, if he wants the position. A possible knock on him is that he would be (I believe) the youngest head coach in Division I -- and he hasn't had any head coaching experience anywhere at any level.

* Penn offensive coordinator Andy Coen. A former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Kevin Higgins, Andy has been a great success at Penn, seemingly getting at least two All-Ivy linemen every year he's been coach. In 2003, Penn had a perfect 10-0 season and all five of his linemen were all-Ivy - his third Ivy Championship as offensive coordinator. A more seasoned coach than Cecchini, he looks to be ready to make the jump to becoming a head coach. But is this the right situation?

* California (PA)'s head coach John Luckhardt. A link to Lehigh's championship-winning Division II days, John Luckhardt has been head coach at California (PA) (D-II) and Washington & Jefferson (D-III), and is a member of the Pennsylvania Coaching Hall of Fame. He was the defensive coordinator that was the architect of the defenses under legendary coach John Whitehead. His name has been getting more notice lately since Lehigh AD Joe Sterrett was the QB when Luckhardt was the defensive coordiator. Not only that, he's a very experienced guy (as a head coach) for over two decades, and a defensive guy too - arguably something we may need in South Mountain. But is he interested in coaching at the I-AA level - a completely different challenge than sub-division-I?

Finally, we have the "true outsiders", who are bringing a brand-new approach to the team entirely. These are high-profile guys from a variety of I-A, I-AA scholarship, and I-AA non-scholarship backgrounds. Many of these guys would have to learn the idiosyncracies of Patriot League coaching on-the-fly. Since this post is getting really long, and there are quite a few of them, I'll try to keep these short.

* Jim Hofner, former coach at I-A Buffalo. A fairly successful head coach at Cornell before inheriting an unwinnable situation at Buffalo of the MAC, he brings loads of experience to the table - but with an 8-49 record at his last coaching stop, it's an open question as to whether Lehigh fans will ahve the stomach to stick with him if times get hard. He would have a very good resume on paper with his Cornell experience, however, making him an interesting choice.

* Bobby Wallace, former coach at I-A Temple. Like Hofner, he was a good head coach in an unwinnable and sad situation at Temple. Like Hofner, he brings a ton of experience to the table, but in my opinion Lehigh would be a tough situation for him to jump into. Unlike Hofner, Wallace wouldn't have any experience recruiting at the Ivy/Patriot level.

* Mike Sewak, former coach at Georgia Southern. Emotionally forced out after guiding the Eagles to an 8-3 record and a I-AA playoff berth, he's been looking everywhere for a new head coaching position, from Elon to Northern Colorado. He doesn't seem like a good fit if he wants to bring the triple-option with him (I don't think Lehigh fans and alumni would go for that) - however, he's proven he can win games at the I-AA level. An intruguing choice - but also a choice with a lot of questions.

* Chip Kelley, New Hampshire Offensive Coordinator. Just named Assistant Coach of the Year by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston, he has spent the last 13 years at New Hampshire and was the architect of the deadliest offense in all of I-AA last year. A great offensive mind, but is he ready for the challenge of becoming a full-time coach in the Patriot League, with grants-in-aid instead of scholarships?

I think that's enough for now! I will continue to print the information as it develops. Please comment below. What do you think might happen?

Comments

Anonymous said…
There is not one coach on the inside that could run the program, these kids need a motivator that brings a renewed excitement to the program. These last couple of years with Limbo and the existing coaches will not cut it... they deserev better!
Anonymous said…
People need to read this article in the Express-Times this week. It is right on regarding Lembo.
http://www.pennlive.com/columns/expresstimes/sokoloski/index.ssf?/base/columns-0/113507309877410.xml&coll=2
Key Points:
"Lembo can try all he wants to convince himself he has better opportunity now at a school that gives scholarships and offers him a chance to make a losing program into a winner."
"He said he was looking for a new challenge in Elon, N.C. He had a pretty big one staring him down with the rejuvenation of Lafayette. Instead, Lembo took his glowing 44-14 record and .759 winning percentage at Lehigh and called it quits."
"some of that aura attached to the winningest I-AA program in the nation over the past eight seasons began to erode."
"The ever-critical Lehigh fans, who find every bit as much fault in victories as they do losses, won't settle for anything less. They're not looking for the next Pete Lembo. They're demanding a whole lot more."
Ngineer said…
Nice summary there. Howabout another name to bat around? Isaac Collins--who would have been the DC after Gilmore left had he not bolted with him--Higgins supposedly just offered him DB coach job at Citadel. Was firey guy and I thought did a good job with the D when he was here. Just a thought.
Anonymous said…
Collins was named DC at Citadel on Decemeber 16th... toooo late!
Anonymous said…
Jim Hofher is the best choice by far, not even close, that is if he's interested!
Anonymous said…
Mike sewak hands down. He has won as a head coach at Georgia Southern.
PS..get his qb Foster to transfer! if he does that, bring on the option.
Anonymous said…
Hey great idea! Get Sewak and his quarterback. Have you been to any games lately? Have you seen Sedale Threatt? What a dumbass!
Ngineer said…
With comments like that, I hope you're not an alum. The class of an institution is reflected by the way we present ourselves, here, and elsewhere. I'm sure people 'interested' in whether they want to be part of the Lehigh 'family' take all this extra-curricular 'blogging' into account as to whether they would want to be subjected to such juvenile criticism. Let's keep some perspective about what this level of college football is all about.
Anonymous said…
I personally think that Sedale and company will guide the Mountain Hawks to a national championship within the next two years, regardless of the coaching choice. Any way you look at it, the names mentioned are all capable. I would think that the new coach coming in, would more than likely want to adapt to the teams strengths, which for the next two years should be a wide open run and shoot, high octane offense, bolstered by the always aggressive defensive style of play. Entertaining the idea of trying to replace players, by toting them along with a new coach, is not in the best interest of the program.
Anonymous said…
I don't care who takes over as long as he plays local kids from the Lehigh Valley.
Anonymous said…
Hello Georgia Southern is the most winning program in the last few years. So why not take their coach and qb if we could. I know Lehigh never runs the option but this kid Jayson Foster is a rice burner. He is only a sohp and ran for 1,500 yards. He can throw too, they just dont do it alot. I have tons of faith in Sedale i knew he would be fine the second he came in v. Yale. Im saying bring Foster in and use both Sedale and Foster. Then Lehigh's offense will be unstoppable.
Ngineer said…
I doubt Sewak would be interested given the academic and scholarship restrictions he'd have to learn to deal with. The QB is very good, but 1) can he be admitted? and 2) he'd have to sit a year which may or may not be in his interest.
I think the "team" of Luckhardt and Cecchini would be interesting.
Anonymous said…
This is going to be interesting, I'm on pins and needles. I really like the Hofher idea. He was very successful at Cornell and certainly knows how to win. He wa astate champion quarterback in high school and is very well liked by all of his peers and adored by his players. It would nice to see the Mountain Hawks ring up a ton of victories for an absolutely superior individual. I understand about the Buffalo thing, but football people in the know, understand what that situation is like. He should be given an award for coaching there. Good luck to the AD, no pressure there!
LUHawker said…
Mike Sewak is an interesting consideration for Head Coach, but please stop with the joke of having Foster tag along. The academic profile of Ga. Southern is no where close to PL schools, so the odds of this guy passing muster is very low in my guess.

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