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Former Lehigh Head Coach Pete Lembo Heads to Ball State

(Photo Credit: The Muncie Star-Press)

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.


Anonymous said…
Hofstra was not the only home playoff game. We also hosted James Madison in the infamous seven downs game.
Anonymous said…
He always leaves just when the program is heading down. The players at Elon had the same opinion of him as the Lehigh players. They hated him. Ball State has a great nucleus returning as did Elon. Lembo will ride it and when it ebbs ,jump ship
Anonymous said…
Never would I have thought it would be Lembo to make the jump to FBS rather than Higgins.
Anonymous said…
Umm Ball State is freakin terrible. A great nucleus of what?
ngineer said…
Ball State was in a couple bowl games not too many years ago. Pete is a smart guy and certainly appears to be on a mission to get to the 'big time' as he makes the periodic step up the ladder in the nomadic life of a college football coach in search of the big time. He took Elon as far as that program can go and, like Elon, Ball State is a no-lose proposition. If he can get BSU into a bowl game in the next few years there will likely be a move to a more 'center ring' program.
Anonymous said…
And for his $350k per year deal, Pete may feel he earns enough to tolerate any criticism by Lettermen or even the 80-plus year old Ball State alums. Ugly attitude sped his Lehigh departure. And the guy still needs to give that Eddie Robinson award back to Kevin Higgins, who earned it for him before departing Lehigh.
LUHawker said…
I wish Pete well as he did an adequate job while at Lehigh. That being said, I shed no tears when he left, and was one of those who didn't think Pete was someone who get get us over the top, nor someone, from a coaching perspective, that understood the Rivalry. I was also someone who was in favor of Coen. There was definitely some second-guessing on my part until this past season and I think Andy finally got the right OC to make the system work. I still have no idea why we can't run the ball (even in league and against the Ivies), but I like where we're headed.
Anonymous said…
we cant run the ball because we don't have a running back. next year will be very trying having lost the entire O line and such stellar defensive performers. yes we have skill at some very im,portant offensive positions, but the holes are huge. Don't expect the good fortune to continue, especially with the recent no call on scholarships.
Anonymous said…
Coach C was the saving grace for Coen. Period!
ngineer said…
We have some very good talent returning next year. Two very solid RBs with Barket and Sherman. We lose 3 starters on OL, but we have guys who move up who got good game experience this year with injuries.
DL front will also return a lot. Secondary will retool. Good athletes ready to move up. That's college football, guys leave and you look forward to the underclassmen proving themselves.
My guess is we'll be picked to repeat in 2011.
There is no question the players like playing for Coen and now with Cecchini at OC our QBs are actually learning something.
Anonymous said…
Love the revisionist history here. Lembo coached the socks off Coen every day of the week. One good, not great, year in five does not a legend make.

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