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Jeff Lebo sent shockwaves through the college basketball world Wednesday, stepping down as ECU’s men’s basketball head coach just six games into his eighth season.
Lebo surprised Director of Athletics Jeff Compher a day before a game with in-state rival UNC Wilmington, asking to meet with the AD Wednesday morning. He informed him of the news shortly after they started talking.
The 51-year-old coach was in his eighth season with the Pirates. He compiled a 116-122 record overall. Coming off three straight losing seasons, Lebo’s Pirates were off to a 2-4 start this season with uncharacteristic losses to Radford, Central Connecticut State and North Carolina A&T.
Michael Perry, who was the acting head coach during Lebo’s hip surgery last season, will again take over the head role.
“After careful consideration, and a lot of thought and talk with my family and my wife,” Lebo said, “after 36 years of playing and coaching, and after the sacrifices that we have made as a family, it was time for me to make a change and a pivot into a new chapter in my life. As a coach, you pour your heart and your soul into everything that you have into coaching, into your players and into your program.
“Sometimes, there comes a time where you want to focus a little bit more on some areas that you might have fallen short over the course of the time.”
Lebo, a former standout player at North Carolina, saw his best years as ECU’s coach towards the beginning of his tenure in Greenville. He led the Pirates to a program-best 23 wins and a CIT championship during the 2012-13 season, earning a long-term extension through the 2020-21 season in the process. But the results started to dwindle in the following years.
ECU went 17-17, 14-19 and 12-20 in the next three seasons. The Pirates also posted a 15-18 mark last season (ECU was 9-10 overall when Lebo stepped away for midseason hip surgery).
After a successful tenure as a player at UNC in the 1980s, Lebo started his head coaching career at Tennessee Tech in 1998. He posted a 75-43 mark there before going 40-20 in two years as the head coach of Chattanooga. He then moved to Auburn, where he posted a mark of 96-93 and was fired after six seasons.
Lebo admitted he has been thinking about stepping away for some time now before culminating in the final decision early this week.
“It’s been in the back of my head for a while, but nothing really concrete until fairly recently,” Lebo said. “It’s just the time. Time for a new leadership change, time for a new direction. Timing is never great in these situations. I just felt it was time for me at this point to make this pivot.”
Compher said the news of Lebo’s resignation came as a surprise. Lebo brought his wife, Melissa, to a scheduled meeting with Compher, and that’s when the athletics director realized something was up.
“As he sat down, he said, ‘I’m going to drop a bombshell on you,’” Compher said. “Then he told me he was stepping down as our head coach, effective immediately. While you may never know how your day will go this day in age in college athletics, I can tell you this news did come as quite a surprise to me.
“I have nothing but respect and admiration for Coach Lebo and the way he has run men’s basketball at ECU.”
MONTGOMERY TO RETURN
Despite disappointing results that included a 3-9 record for the second consecutive season, head coach Scottie Montgomery will return for a third year in 2018, Compher confirmed this week.
The Pirates notched just three wins — all against teams with losing records — this season, while suffering eight losses of more than 20 points.
Compher said during a radio interview that while the results on the field haven’t been there, he believes Montgomery is building things the “right way” with the type of players he’s recruiting.
“I firmly believe in his leadership and this team,” Compher said. “He never lost the locker room. These guys really, really believed in him and his coaches. The way they supported each other, and the team, was really impressive.”
Sources indicate Montgomery was on the road recruiting Monday in Miami and has already made several calls to coaches in the industry about potentially joining his staff.
Regardless of what happens with the rest of his current staff, Montgomery must fill at least two coaching positions. Former defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson’s spot is vacant after he was released two games into the season, while the NCAA is adding the ability for teams to hire a 10th full-time assistant beginning in January.