I attended Lembo’s community forum at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in beautiful Minnetrista Friday morning. It was awkward at first as I saw less than 10 people there on arrival. This was open to everyone in Muncie to meet and greet Pete Lembo and only 10 people showed. To make things worse I was the only student. Every Ball State student got the same e-mail invitation I had and one out of 20,000 made it. I clearly stood out like a sore thumb in a room full of tenured faculty.
We shook hands and I told him I was with Over the Pylon, which may not have been the best idea as he expected no media to be there.
Sadly, I did not take a picture with him, or record the conversation as it was such an intimate setting I did not want to be the jerk that placed a recorder on a table.
What impressed me most was Lembo’s public speaking ability. He spoke for an hour while taking questions in the latter half. Not once did he look down for notes, or say any cliché “coach speak.” Even with all the talking I am fairly sure he did not even take a sip of the water on his podium until 50 minutes into it. If only there was stat sheet for something like that. Standing behind a podium he was more like a politician than a coach.
As a Georgetown graduate, Lembo explained how all four of his college roommates went on to become lawyers (tragically, one passed away in a car accident eight years ago). While his college buddies were making bank, Lembo was slowly rising through the college ranks. Needless to say, assistant coaches at tiny colleges do not make much money. Lembo says he did not even have health insurance while his friends were establishing successful law firms purchasing luxury cars. I am sure Lembo has caught up to his peers in recent years.
Lembo spoke extensively about his time at Lehigh University as he learned to cope with limited resources. The school’s shoestring budget makes Ball State look like Michigan.
Bringing alums to talk about life after football was another factor Lembo emphasized. Lembo says having several former Ball State players talk about the difficulties of making a transition to life after football came across as a wake-up call to his players.
When football coaches say they value academics, it is difficult to tell how genuine they truly are. With Lembo I was buying every word. No one leaves Georgetown thinking grades are meaningless. That was tough for me to say as I hate Georgetown and Google “Ronny Thompson and family” to learn why. Lembo’s history of coaching smaller schools that rarely have NFL talent brings more emphasis on a degree than a pro career.
Another notable was recruiting philosophy. Lembo wants to recruit locally but also in southern states like the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida because of networking he made at Elon. We can assume that schools like Clemson and South Florida will become norms on Ball State’s schedule.
Lembo says he does not have many hobbies. He is a bit of a World War I and World War II historian. I guess nothing speaks to the American male quite like college football and shooting Nazis.
I left the forum wanting to quote Denzel Washington from the “Manchurian Candidate” saying, “Pete Lembo is probably the kindest, bravest, warmest, most selfless human being I’ve ever known.”
Okay I did not go that far. This was not a brain washing session.
The fact is Lembo, has been open with the Muncie community and worked hard reestablish relations with alumni. So far, the assistant coaches he has hired have paid off well. Players have bought into the system and wins came in 2011. What more do you want the man to do?
I did have some questions after the forum. If Lembo is so good how was Ball State able to get him? Was Tom Collins lucky to find the right man for the job? Read that last sentence again and tell me if that is a believable statement. Then again why am I paranoid like Richard Nixon in 1972 right now? I can think of two scenarios.
1. Tom Collins found a hidden gem in the coaching ranks. As a Ball State fan it is tough to give Collins credit for much of anything but credit is due.
2. Other FBS schools discarded Lembo for some unknown reason. The fact that closer Sun Belt and Conference USA schools failed to make an effort before Ball State appears either as incompetent or troubling. Did those schools see red flags Ball State did not?
In the meantime Ball State fans have something to look forward to in the 2012 season.
For the future, every time Lembo appears on ESPN, I can say “I know that guy.” Even better I have a new reason to watch the “Manchurian Candidate” and play World War II video games.