You might vaguely remember, don't you, when RB Jonathan Hurt positioned himself under a desperation fourth down heave by the Leopards' backup QB and - after Lehigh's defensive back slipped on the play - side-stepped into the end zone for the game winning score.
That would end up being Lehigh head coach Pete Lembo's final game coaching the Brown and White, a bitter end to his hugely successful run in South Mountain where he would go 44-14 and secure the only home playoff game in Murray Goodman history. (And until this season, his win over Hofstra in overtime was the last postseason victory by the Mountain Hawks.)
Almost five years to the day when Lembo left to coach the Elon Phoenix of the SoCon, Lembo left North Carolina to take on a new, exciting challenge: as the coach of an FBS team. Today, Ball State announced Lembo as their 16th head football coach, replacing former coach Stan Parrish. (more)
Lembo was a thrilled man as he took the podium in Muncie today. He was all smiles in the beginning of the press conference.
"I'm very passionate about my job as a college football coach," he said with a tiny North Carolina twang in his opening statements, "and I'm very excited to tackle the challenges that lie ahead here at Ball State.
“I want to make it clear from the start that this is not about me. This is about the Ball State football program and the student-athletes, the coaches, the support staff... That’s my primary focus and responsibility, to maximize the potential of the student-athletes, in all the areas of their lives. I will work tirelessly to make sure that the constituents of this program can take a great deal of pride in.
“I want our team to be the tightest knit team on this campus and in the conference. We will work very hard to build relationships, establish trust, and develop intangibles, because I think that is such a big part of a team's success.”
He also took the time from the podium to acknowledge former Lehigh (and current Ball State) head basketball coach Billy Taylor several times, showing that he was in attendance as well.
"You know, any time you're taking a crash course in trying to learn a lot about a place, it's incredibly helpful to have somebody there who you know and trust, and who you can learn from, and Billy's a man of great integrity. I know you guys are very fortunate to have him here, and I certainly appreciate his insights throughout the process."
On Sunday, Lembo "bid adieu exactly five years to the day he was hired at Elon", according to the Burlington Times-News.
“It’s been an emotional few days, that’s for sure,” he told Adam Smith by phone after attending a social at the home of Ball State athletics director Tom Collins. “It’s been a real whirlwind. Everything’s happened really quickly. As exciting as this opportunity is, you also reflect back on five great years and all the great relationships and wonderful people and it’s hard to leave, too. I just feel very humbled by the whole thing.”
Lembo and interim head coach Eddie Faulkner were apparently the only two candidates who did a face-to-face interview for the job.
"As I researched it, I felt good about what I learned about the student-athletes and program," Lembo told a reporter from ESPN. "A lot of guys are coming back on the roster, and yet some of the struggles offensively and with turnovers and things of that nature, I felt like some of the things we've been able to do at the places I've been might be a good fit to come in and re-energize the program."
According to the Muncie Star-Press, Lembo signed a four year contract worth $350,000 a year, with a possible $10,000 bonus based on "evidence of good and/or improved academic performance and socially responsible conduct on the part of the football team and its members."
Last year, Ball State's multiyear Academic Progress Rate report, or APR, was 935, which was marginally lower than the average APR for the rest of Division I football. In 2009, Ball State was the only public institution in the state of Indiana with an APR above 925, meaning academics is a point of emphasis for Ball State president Jo Ann Gora.
What I can tell interested Ball State fans is that in Lembo they will get a tireless networker in terms of developing relationships with high schools to get talented players - and "character guys" for their program. When he was on the staff at Lehigh, he was a part of an effort to look beyond the Lehigh Valley for qualified academic recruits - and expanded that effort as head football coach as well. He did something similar at Elon, too, another private institution with high academic standards, developing relationships with countless high schools.
Lembo loves his military history. One time I made a reference to "Vietnam" and "quagmire", I think, in an email to him - and was quickly put in place. His offices at Elon were complete with posters of Winston Churchill.
It will be interesting when Ball State and Bowling Green play each other in the MAC, as their head man, Dave Clawson was also an assistant coach at Lehigh. When he was at Richmond he scheduled a game against a Pete Lembo-coached Elon team - but he instead went to become an assistant coach at Tennessee, instead.
Congratulations to coach Lembo and this great opportunity for him and his family. It's extremely exciting to see former members of the Lehigh coaching family take positions like this. Maybe someday Lehigh will be able to take a trip out there to play them, too.