Jeff Lebo we hate to see you go

Published 10:21 am Monday, December 11, 2017

A lot of ECU fans are probably going to strike me off their Christmas lists, but I really hated to see ex-Pirate men’s basketball coach Jeff Lebo step down last week; not in the middle, but almost at the beginning of another season.

Was I blindsided by the news? Not exactly.

But really, the timing wasn’t really that strange at all considering ECU’s 2-4 start, which included losses to Central Connecticut State and N.C. A&T, teams currently ranked 323rd and 325th among the nation’s 351 Division I programs. The Aggies had never even come close to sniffing a victory, much less one at Minges Coliseum.

Lebo cited burnout, and that’s really something that only those who’ve experienced it really know and can speak about. As Lebo’s interim successor, Michael Perry said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “When you know, you know. You can’t plan it; you just know that it’s time.”

2017-18 would’ve been his 20th consecutive season as a head coach as he leap-frogged his way from Tennessee Tech to Tennessee-Chattanooga, to Auburn, to Pirate-Land.

Lebo’s had seven years – make that seven years and six games – in Greenville, and amassed an overall record of 89-84. With the exception of 2012-13 when they finished 23-12 – closing with a flourish as winners of the Tournament (CIT) – he’d never won more than 17 games in a season. In fact, he’d had only two winning seasons with the program during his tenure.

Lebo insisted that he would have made this same call even if his team had been 6-0. With that start, and those losses, maybe he saw the handwriting on the proverbial Williams Arena scoreboard.

I don’t think Lebo had necessarily worn out his welcome, but he did take a self-inflicted hit rather than pass a decision at season’s end over to somewhat embattled ECU athletic director Jeff Compher.

There’s a good chance that would have happened already had Lebo not taken a leave of absence for the final 14 games of last season while undergoing hip surgery.

Lebo comes from good basketball pedigree: as a product of Dean Smith as a former UNC player, and later an assistant with another in the Tarheel Blue bloodline: Eddie Fogler.

Some think the school’s entry into the American Athletic Conference has placed a ton of pressure on Pirate coaches.

Well, kinda-sorta.

An early member of the old ECAC-South, which morphed into the Colonial Athletic Association, ECU won the league championship in 1992-93 when former Bertie High star Lester Lyons was part of the team.

But eight years later the school bolted the league for Conference-USA and the reason can be spelled in one word: football. A year ago, they were looking to become the next member of the ready-to-expand Big-12 Conference.

In fact, every move ECU made in joining a new conference has been done in the interest of raising its football profile. This may be a basketball state, but a lot of Pirate success is measured far greater on the gridiron.

But you have to wonder if it comes at the basketball program’s expense.

Not only does ECU have to recruit in-state against Duke, UNC, NC State, and Wake Forest, now they’re end-blocked up against the likes of Davidson, Charlotte, and UNC-Wilmington.

But maybe ECU can turn that into a positive. Look at what they offer: a strong, multi-bid conference affiliation and competitive facilities, which include that spanking new practice gym next to Minges Coliseum, can be downright intimidating when the fans, and especially the students, want to rock the place.

A lot of names have been bandied about as the next coach, headed by interim coach Michael Perry, who’s been a head coach before. I’ve heard everyone from Big Four assistants, a MEAC coach, former ECU coach Dave Odom’s son, now a head coach in Baltimore, and someone even suggested another former UNC player: Jerry Stackhouse, who had some success coaching in the what’s now the NBA G-League and could potentially mine a lot of talent from his former hometown of Kinston: site of perennial state championship teams.

Whatever the case. Here’s hoping the next Pirate coach is a slam-dunk, with what they’re facing, I don’t think they can afford another turnover.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.