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BREAKING: Narduzzi Out at UConn, Flight to Muncie from CT, Lembo in Mobile

logo200Here’s what we know at this time:

  • 2:12pm: Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has withdrawn from consideration or turned down an offer from Uconn (via)
  • 2:30pm: BSU offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky has reportedly agreed to be the next head coach at Elon  (via)
  • 3:10pm: BREAKING: There is a flight scheduled for this afternoon to Muncie, Indiana from Groton, Connecticut. Whether that is UConn related or not, I am unsure as that is a different plane than the one presumed to be used earlier for contact between Narduzzi, Lembo, and UConn. But that seems awfully coincidental. This could be UConn administrators coming to Muncie for CPL, it could be CPL coming back to Muncie from a visit to UConn, or it could be none of the above. We have learned our lesson with flights, so I make no assumptions. Nope. None. Purely coincidence.

Here’s your flight plan and information (click to make bigger):

FlightAware

  • 3:15pm: It has been pointed out that Groton, CT (where the above flight is originating from) is not the airport of choice, nor nearest proximity to Storrs, CT (where UConn is located). So if you’re looking for hope, that seems like as good a glimmer as any to hang on to.
  • 3:17pm: OTP can confirm that Rich Skrosky has, in fact, accepted the head coach position at Elon University. Sources with knowledge of program workings confirmed that players received a text from staff telling them to congratulate Skrosky on the new position. Likely will not be officially announced until Thursday.
  • 3:25pm: More flight-related fun, as the above plane’s point of origin before Connecticut was Greensboro, NC, where CPL had been announced to be recruiting this week. Additionally, it is departing from Muncie and heading to Wichita, KS after, so this stop could be entirely unrelated to a coaching search and a fuel stop in between departure and arrival. (h/t to Willo on BSUFans)
  • 3:29pm: Pete Lembo just tweeted the following:
    Pete TweetEither the flight referenced above has nothing to do with UConn and CPL, they’re sending people to wait at the door for him outside his house, or it truly is related and he’s simply trolling all of us with the above. At this point, and given the ridiculous crazy in this search, I’d put even money on all of the above.

WE WILL BE ADDING TO THE ABOVE AS WE GET IT.

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As the Carousel Spins, Pete Lembo May Be Playing Us All

OTP Rucks ReactionMark one potential destination off the list for Pete Lembo as Wake Forest has cast their lot with Bowling Green’s Dave Clawson. That’s good for Wake but it could be fantastic for Cardinals fans as currently there is only one other position (UConn) that’s even a viable position at this point for the services of a certain bespectacled football coach in Muncie.

Reports floated out yesterday that CPL was talking about that very position in Atlanta while on a recruiting trip. For some reason, and it could be completely ridiculous, the UConn job worries me less than Wake Forest did. Perhaps it’s because of what I know about Pete Lembo. Perhaps it’s what I know about UConn. Maybe it’s a little bit of all of the above in the form of:

  • While certainly a bigger opportunity than Brady Hoke left BSU for in San Diego State, an argument could be made that the gap in national prominence isn’t all that different from BSU to Connecticut. With the MAC’s television deal and the advent of ESPN3, etc. it’s not like Connecticut is more visible. I would even make the case that BSU gets more exposure with weekday mid-week MAC games than UConn’s Saturday contests lost in the noise. With the BCS going away next year, and Connecticut competing in a gutted American Athletic Conference, it just doesn’t strike me as the level of prestige that CPL deserves.
  • The money will most assuredly be nicer in Connecticut than in Muncie. The former coach of the Huskies (Paul Pasqualoni) was scheduled this season to make in the neighborhood of $1.7MM so that would be a considerable increase over Lembo’s $400k salary, but as Tom Davis pointed out last week, Lembo isn’t the coach who will jump just to jump. I think whatever program lands CPL will have to either come with a ridiculous amount of money or a few other intangibles. UConn doesn’t strike me as that program.
  • The weather is just terrible in the northeast, and as someone who used to live a little bit further down the eastern seaboard, I can say that with some knowledge. I’ve heard from quite a few folks that this coaching staff are not big fans of cold weather, so if that’s reality, the intangibles and the money has to trump the potential for frostbite.
  • UConn will always be a basketball-first school. CPL wants his football program to be the talk of the town and something the campus and the community support. No matter how successful he is and the basketball program isn’t, football at UConn is a distant third behind men’s and women’s hoops. Though part of me would like to be a fly on the wall when Geno Auriemma and CPL interact. That I think would be amazing.

So the carousel spins on, and I have to say, I love the way both Pete Lembo and Bill Scholl are handling this particular version of the oscillation. With a consistent “no comment” policy, it makes for easier answers albeit more difficult work for journalists and bloggers to do their job. How many times has a coach made some definitive statement about “no interest” or “not happening” only to have that precise job a week later? But make no mistake, no comment doesn’t mean fans assume there’s no contact.

Fans are passionate. Fans are irrational. Fans aren’t stupid. I, and hopefully you, expect Coach Lembo to interview for better opportunities and bigger name positions. I don’t begrudge him at all for that and in fact, would be worried if he didn’t want to advance. Coaches that have higher aspirations and bigger dreams are the most successful ones out there. Nick Saban wasn’t content to stay at Toledo. Brady Hoke had better locales in mind. It’s the nature of the business.

But if I were CPL’s agent, I would strongly advocate against taking the UConn job. Interview for it, sure. See what they have to say. What made Chris Peterson from Boise State so intriguing, aside from the success, is that it was almost assumed he wouldn’t leave. Could Pete Lembo be trying to appear so selective and specific that he opens up higher profile doors simply because of the appearance of being choosy? I don’t know. But the adjective that I, and others, have used quite frequently is “cerebral”. Would you put it past him? I wouldn’t.

Lembo to Team: “Nothing Has Changed”

logo200Word broke this morning that a team meeting had been called by the BSU football staff for before this afternoon’s practice. I kept that under my hat for the day waiting to see what (if anything) would come from it. My worst fear would be having to put a post up a la Brady Hoke’s final days that a team meeting ends up with a coaching search being opened up. That didn’t happen today, despite the Twittervese being all aflitter with flight plans, “done deal” messageboard posts, and people spreading doom and gloom that Coach Pete Lembo had his bags packed and his UHaul loaded up ready to boogaloo on out of the 765. Lembo’s  message to the team was simple: “Nothing has changed” and it’s business as usual around the football program.

Regardless of whomever may be sniffing around Muncie or talking to Lembo or his agents, as of this moment Pete Lembo is still the coach of the Fighting Football Cardinals and fans and supporters would do well to remember that. As I told Tom Davis of the Ft. Wayne News Sentinel on Twitter this afternoon after he was asking people who the next coach should be, let’s wait until the body is cold before we go out looking for a new daddy. Mommy hasn’t pulled the plug on the current one and collected the life insurance so let’s all take a deep breath.

The Star Press ran a story that confirms from an unnamed source that Wake AD Ron Wellman was in Muncie today. Reading between the lines of the Star Press report says that someone at the airport let it slip that the Wake AD was flying in town and needed a rental car. I have two thoughts on this report:

  1. If A Few Good Men taught us anything, it’s that ground crews at airports are wont to maybe be viewed as something they are not. Remember the two airmen that cost Jack Nicholson his full bird colonel-ship and nearly got Danny Kaffee’s skull loved in a not so pleasant way? I’m just saying, airmen have been used as part of trickeration before.
  2. I have rented cars from the Muncie airport before. I was not impressed. I can only hope that Ron Wellman at least got bumped up to mid-size. It’s hard to have negotiation talks in a Prius. And besides, everyone knows Pete isn’t a nancy boy liberal driving around in an electric rice rocket.

Coaching searches bring out the absolute worst in everyone. We have one columnist tweeting about seeing Lembo’s wife buying pickles at Meijer, people confirming what rental car company an AD used, everyone using unnamed sources, all of us wanting to be right, some of us at the expense of being first, and all the while forgetting that there is a group of players, fans, parents, and staff members sort of caught in the middle. So let’s all try to keep a level head about this, shall we? We’ll know soon enough if CPL is staying or going. Probably when he rolls down McKinley Avenue like this:

joker_makes_it_rain_large_original

The Reaper Cometh for Ron English, Lesson for Coaches

The fall from hot up and comer to unemployed was lightning fast for Ron English (Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com)

The fall from hot up and comer to unemployed was lightning fast for Ron English (Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com)

I was lying in bed last night trying to come up with possible BCS AQ schools that were going to have an opening at the end of this season in part to sort of get a jump on potential destinations for hot young coaches who may be making the leap at the end of this season. No reason for that. Just, you know, thinking about what ifs. Just in case.

There were a rash of mid-season firings (Lane Kiffin, Paul Pasqualoni, and Don Treadwell) but the grim reaper of coaches has been fairly sated over the last few weeks. Logically, it would make sense at this point to just wait, rather than throw a team into disarray with only a few weeks left of a season. I’d like to think the players and staff of a team, though the inevitable decision looms, would like to finish the year with those around them no matter the circumstances. Eastern Michigan apparently thinks differently, and announced today that Ron English has been relieved of his coaching duties effective immediately.

Ron English had such promise when he was announced as the new top dog at the football wasteland that is Ypsilanti, despite the lack of facilities, a pitiful fan following, and a fairly bare cupboard after Jeff Genyk. But the demise of EMU wasn’t just a Genyk issue. The Eagles had a long history of painful underperformance, having not gone to a bowl game since the 1987 California Bowl and not finishing better than 3rd in the division over that same time period. That bowl trip was when they were the EMU Hurons.

Maybe it was the name change to Eagles that made the last 25 years or so that bad. Maybe it was the large shadow cast by neighbors Michigan, Michigan State, and to some degree, Grand Valley State. I’m sure the ebb and flow of the successful MAC programs like Toledo, BG, Ball State, NIU, Ohio, etc. certainly didn’t help matters. But when Ron English took the reigns in December of 2008, I (like a lot of other people) thought it was only a matter of time until the Eagles did their rotation as a good MAC program like everyone else. Boy, were we all fooled.

On paper, English seemed like just the kind of coach the Eagles would need to be successful. His pedigree was a strong one, he was the mythical “Michigan Man”, strong jaw and gravel voice, the kind of coach you felt like players would run through a brick wall for and ask for seconds because his toughness, grit, and resolve would naturally trickle down to them. And to some degree, that was the case.

EMU was never an easy win. His players always seemed to play hard. The smashmouth style that English seemed to employ was a throwback to yesteryear and a tried and true formula for decades of success in the Big Ten’s hallowed halls. The first two years were a disaster, 2-22 overall and 2-14 in the MAC. But fans, MAC lovers, and football aficionados wrote it off as the remnants of decades of failure. Once English got his players in place, his system established, his recruiting humming, it was only a matter of time. And in 2011, that seemed to be coming true.

Picked to finish last in the preseason poll, because… Eastern Michigan, English led the Eagles to a .500 record overall and a .500 record in conference. They were respectable in all their losses, including in Ann Arbor. They also beat in-state Western and Central. They played conference champion NIU within a touchdown at Dekalb on national television to close the season, their 4th appearance of the year on tv. Things were looking up for EMU, but it was fool’s gold. An opportunity lost for English and a return to irrelevance for a program that has had to endure more than their fair share of it. They were 6-4 in need of one more win to lock them into a bowl. Then they lost 20 of 23.

The epitaph of the Ron English story is one all coaches, especially ones at mid-majors with struggling budgets, tepid fan support, and institutional barriers to success would do well to familiarize themselves with. At the conclusion of 2011, English was linked to several higher profile jobs like Illinois, Arizona State, and Washington State. He had gone .500 at EMU of all places and his stock was high. Unlike Brady Hoke, English didn’t jump when an opportunity presented itself. He even turned down an extension at EMU, presumably waiting for that perfect opportunity. And now, two years later, he’s unemployed.

In perhaps the greatest irony, or the most tragic one depending on how you look at it, is that English’s replacement at EMU to close out the 2013 season is former Ball State head coach Stan Parrish, one of the forefathers of the evolution of the MAC to a spread, uptempo, point scoring bonanza that coined MACtion and rendered the old school style boring at best, unsuccessful and uncompetitive at worst.

Ron English will be fine. His experience and non-EMU results will land him a coordinator job and opportunity to hit the reset button on a career that may very well be successful going forward under the right circumstances. But as is often the case when coaches are removed, the real losers aren’t the coaches, the fans screaming for it, or even the program itself. It’s the student-athletes, assistant coaches, and support staff that have already endured more in this season with the murder of one of their own than anyone should have to.

It’s a shame all around, but it underscores the moral of the story for coaches. Strike while the iron is hot, gentlemen, because the fall from the top to the bottom can often times be clocked with an egg timer.

Pete Lembo Named to Bear Bryant Award Watch List

logo200I guess Coach Pete Lembo was sick of seeing watchlists the country over get populated by his players without being able to get in on the fun of it himself. He can envy no longer as he was added to the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year Award Watchlist today when they released their 20 coaches vying for the prestigious title. It’s a who’s who of collegiate coaches, and to see Lembo’s name written alongside Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Jimbo Fisher is another feather in his cap and another bullet point on the already impressive resume.

From the BSU release…

Ball State head football coach Pete Lembo has been named to the 20-member watch list for the Paul Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year Award.

The award, sponsored by the American Heart Association and the Marathon Oil Corporation, honors excellence in coaching, while raising funds to fight heart disease and strokes. Bryant suffered a heart attack prior to his death in 1983, and the funds raise benefit research, community education and outreach programs of the AHA.

Lembo has led the Cardinals to an 8-1 overall record and a 5-0 Mid-American Conference mark in 2013. It marks only the fourth 8-1 start or better in Ball State’s 89 years of football, while the 5-0 MAC mark is just the third 5-0 start in Ball State’s 39 years in the MAC. Lembo led the Cardinals to a 48-27 win at Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia earlier this season, which marked the Cardinals fourth win over a school from one of the Football Bowl Subdivision Automatic Qualifying Conferences in his three seasons. He has guided the Cardinals to a 14-1 record in the past 15 regular season games and his .676 winning percentage through 34 games as Ball State’s head coach is the best mark since 1971.

Lembo, who was previously the head coach at Lehigh (2001-05) and Elon (2006-10) earned his 100th career coaching victory with a 27-24 win over Kent State in Ball State’s 87th Homecoming Game this season. He guided the Cardinals to a 9-4 overall record and a 6-2 MAC mark in 2012, and a berth in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl.

Lembo is joined on the list by David Bailiff (Rice), Art Briles (Baylor), Rod Carey (Northern Illinois), Tim DeRuyter (Fresno State), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Al Golden (Miami, Fla.), Mark Helfrich (Oregon), Ball State alum Brady Hoke (Michigan), Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech), Tony Levine (Houston), Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Les Miles (LSU), George O’Leary (Central Florida), Gary Pinkel (Missouri), Nick Saban (Alabama), David Shaw (Stanford), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) and Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M).

The award will be revealed Jan. 15, in Houston, Texas, after a finalists’ list is announced in early December.

Good luck to Coach Lembo and Go Cards!

This one’s for you Billy

Billy BallAfter time for some reflection (and being force to watch an NCAA tournament filled with teams I kind of hate) I feel that we should look back at the six years Billy Taylor coached in Muncie.

Why? Mainly because I feel like the Billy Taylor era needs it.

Phrases like “Billy Failure” are harsh and probably unfair. Yes Taylor had to go. Heck I thought he should have left last year. But to call his tenure a failure seems uneducated.

Doug Zaleski wrote in a column that Taylor just didn’t win enough.
“Taylor simply didn’t win enough games. He had one winning record. He never took BSU to the postseason.”

You mean coaches could get fired for not winning enough games? Wow I had no idea.

Some may be able to paint sports into a black and white picture of wins and losses. I can’t.

If sports were just wins and losses it would be no different from watching the stock market. Sure Ball State loss more games than it won the past six seasons. But the departures of key players through transfers and questionable decisions did more damage.

The fact that women’s basketball coach Brady Sallee has been so successful in his first season made it clear a change was needed on the men’s side too.

Yet Taylor came really close to keep in his job if a few things had gone differently.

2007-08

Taylor inherited a mess left by, insert adjective here, Ronny Thompson. The Cards were short on scholarship players and just short overall. Malik Perry was the tallest player at 6’4” and he was just a freshmen. Senior guard Peyton Stovall was really the only player on the roster that would have seen minutes on a quality team that season. The fear of Ball State going winless that year was quite real. Thankfully a win came at home on New Year’s Eve against bigger cupcake IFPW. Ball State somehow won six games that season. While the record was Ball State’s worst it was actually a great coaching job by Taylor. So far so good.

2008-09

This season opened with a victory against Eastern Illinois where freshmen Jarrod Jones was given a standing ovation for his performance that day. Team captain Anthony Newell went down for the year before conference play as many thought the year was lost. Taylor utilized a mix of transfer players, a good freshmen class, and a slow tempo to compensate for the team’s lack of depth. Thanks to the MAC West being God awful the Cardinals stole the two seed for the conference tournament. The high point coming with a MAC quarterfinal win over Central Michigan in overtime. I remember where I was when ESPN cut into the Big East Tournament to show an update of Ball State advancing after a made jumper from guard Brandon Lampley. The Cards lost in the semis to Buffalo, as the season was forgotten thanks to the women’s team beating Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament that year.

2009-10

The Cards were inexperience this season as sophomores Randy Davis and Jones were becoming the main guys along with Perry entering his junior year. The up and down year lead to an eight seed hosting Ohio in the first round of the MAC tournament. The game went to overtime with the Bobcats on top. Ohio would surprisingly go on to win the MAC even beat three seeded Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. I still say the difference between Ball State and Ohio that season was small. A win over Ohio and it might have been Ball State grabbing the glory.

2010-11

A make or break year for Taylor and the Cardinals came through winning 19 games. Ball State even beat Big East DePaul on the road. That may have been Taylor’s best win. The bad news was a loss to a division II Alaska Anchorage. That was his worst loss as it prevented the Cardinals form reaching 20 wins. Ball State would get revenge over Ohio in the MAC quarterfinals only to lose to Kent State in the semis. Then came the strange decision of opting out of postseason tournaments like the CBI to save money for a preseason trip to Canada in August. Anytime you can play exhibition games in Canada where no one will give a crap over playing in a postseason tourney in front of your own fans you have to do it. Hiring Stan Parrish made more sense than this move. Heck, hiring Ronny Thompson may … nah can’t say it. It was hands down the worst decision in Taylor’s six years here. Momentum from the season was lost and Malik Perry, the soul of the team, graduated.

2011-12

Expectations were through the roof as the Cardinals had experience and depth coming into the season. The depth took a hit with guard Tyrae Robinson having academic issues first semester. In addition players who were starting earlier in the season were losing playing time to some of the newcomers. The problems became noticeable in a blowout defeat to Akron at home. Ball State came in hoping to challenge the MAC’s best instead it imploded. The Cardinals lost their next seven conference games and went out with a whimper in the first round of the MAC tournament at Western Michigan. Teams that win 19 games the year before don’t struggle the next with most of the squad returning. Possible reasons included the death of player’s brother, but more had to have been going on than that. Taylor’s tendency to be calm on the sidelines was seen as a weakness when the season was falling apart. The lockeroom must have had issues that never came to the surface. If it was an NBA team or a bigger school we would know what happen but the internal issues from this season appears to remain a mystery. This season marked three straight years of missed opportunities.

2012-13

With losses from graduation and transfers Ball State had plenty of issues coming into this season. Forward Majok Majok and guards Jauwan Scaife and Jesse Berry made a season out of it leading Ball State to the 5 seed in the MAC tournament. But terrible early season losses, including a blowout from Indiana State at home killed fan interest. Not that there was much interest going into the season anyway. A loss to Buffalo in the second round of the MAC tournament sealed Taylor’s fate.

The last two seasons got away from Taylor with missed opportunities in the two seasons before that. Taylor never got to the MAC tournament final but then again no else did from the MAC West in that time either. I can’t say he failed as the program is much stronger today than it was when he came in. Kids graduated and we did not have any big scandals for six years. The next coach who comes in will have a program that’s just in need of improvement on the court. That should make it a job somebody wants.

As for Taylor I feel like he can still be a head coach somewhere else. Good luck.

The Coaching Carousel and Pete Lembo

Could Pete Lembo be coming to your city? Hopefully without Big and Rich.

Could Pete Lembo be coming to your city? Hopefully without Big and Rich.

For the last week or so, and especially the last few days, the coaching carousel has hit a fever pitch across the landscape of college football. As that has intensified, so too has the mentioning of Pete Lembo. It’s not a surprise really, as even I have wondered quite publicly what Lembo could do at a massive program with automatic qualifier status, shiny facilities, a non-apathetic fanbase, and a recruiting base and budget significantly larger than dear old Ball State. As of yet, and with vacancies being filled at the likes of Kentucky, Purdue, Boston College, etc. perhaps the “Pete Lembo” nameplate is safe for a while in the football complex. Or is it?

Though I championed Lembo for the Kentucky vacancy, that was an argument made largely because of my Wildcat fandom and not based in reality. However inaccurate it may be, the odds of a MAC coach going straight to the SEC, even a middling bottom-feeder is largely impossible. Even Nick Saban had to make a stop in East Lansing before being taken seriously.

Brady Hoke thought the same was the case with Michigan. It was largely thought that winning in the MAC wasn’t enough to justify a leap to the Big Ten. Darell Hazell would beg to differ, as would Jerry Kill. But given Michigan’s national stature, I can’t say I disagree with that. But given the recent developments of Dave Doeren to NC State and Hazell to Purdue, I’d say that winning in the MAC, however short that winning tenure, is perhaps enough to qualify a coach for all but the biggest and brightest lights. To those athletic directors who see past the “name hire” or the elusive search for the oft-mentioned “homerun” to spike tickets and interest, I say good on you.

Cards fans and fans have other schools have tweeted and emailed me regarding Lembo and his interest in their various vacancies and whether or not I thought he would leave. That’s a much longer answer than a tweet, and frankly, writing (or cutting and pasting) the same answer multiple times just seems like a tremendous low thing on my list of things to do. So I thought I would handle it here.

  • Will Pete Lembo leave Ball State? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is I doubt seriously that Pete has an interest in coaching for the next thirty years in the MAC and I also doubt that his on-field results will dictate that no one would be interested. Given those two qualifiers, I also doubt that Ball State will be willing to put up the finances to retain him. On top of all that, with the MAC the odds of winning consistently on a national level are limited and the ability to compete for national championships or soon to be playoff berths is next to impossible. So will he leave? Probably.
  • When will he leave? That’s the $64,000 question. Part of me thinks the coaching carousel for this year is about to wind itself down. Tennessee is still scrambling for a coach but that vacancy does have some significant impact to Lembo. Same with Colorado. While I don’t think the Volunteers will come calling (though if a few more turn them down, who knows) one of the finalists is Charlie Strong from Louisville. I could see Tom Jurich at least giving a cursory look to Lembo. Louisville and Muncie aren’t that far apart, negating the things about fit and locale, and given the amount of insitutional support at Louisville for football and their pending move to the ACC, that could be significantly attractive. The Colorado hire is much the same, as I don’t think Lembo heads to Boulder unless something unexpected happens in their search but should Butch Jones leave Cincinnati, the same sort of Louisville logic applies for the Bearcats opening. As of this year, at this moment, those are the two plausible scenarios and both of those I wouldn’t consider probable. If I were a betting man, I’d say next year is the more likely option. Much the same as 2008, the Cards will be a seasoned team with no presumable front runner in the MAC. Given what I think will be a special year for the Cards, a lack of returning skill players in 2014, a dearth of experienced coaches with winning MAC track records, etc. Lembo will be the top MAC option if things go according to plan.
  • Where would he go to? Despite the fact that Hoke did it, I would be surprised if Lembo left BSU for another mid-major non-automatic qualifer school. That limits him to opportunities from the Big East, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac 12, and Big 12. Given his history and geographic recruiting experience, I’d think that limits him to the Big Ten, Big East, SEC, and ACC in the eyes of potential employers. Based on the SEC needing a name hire and their (correct) assumption that SEC football is the biggest and best brand in all the land, I’d say that further limits him to the Big East, ACC, and Big 10. Realistically (and especially if Doeren has success in Raleigh) an ACC job that comes open at the close of 2013 would worry me. I hope and pray that it isn’t Maryland for numerous personal reasons and professional reasons for Pete. Knowing my karmic luck, I would be shocked 0% if that happens.

Now could all this be for naught? Of course. Perhaps next year doesn’t go well for any number of reasons. That limits the options. Perhaps Pete and family are happy in Muncie. Perhaps the University ponies up the money to keep Pete there for a few more years. Perhaps Pete feels a sense of loyalty to the employer that gave him his first FBS job. Maybe Ball State makes a significant enough investment in the football program with things like indoor practice facilities, stadium jumbotrons, etc. that long term success in Muncie and MAC dominance is possible. Any of those things could complicate the answers above.

I think when it really gets down to it, the thing that makes Pete a successful head football coach is what will make his next decision about his future the right one. Ask anyone who has interacted with Lembo or played for him and they will eventually circle back to one particular word: cerebral. Pete is not the thick-necked stereotypical football coach. He isn’t the Les Miles crazy that some coaches wear like a badge of honor. He isn’t the soulless assasin that Nick Saban is. Pete is the thinking man’s coach. His second half adjustments are measured and effective. It’s hard to imagine his next move won’t be the same.

I look for Lembo’s next move to not be just “a move” but more specifically the “right move”. Patience in life and often times coaching is a hard to find virtue. So many times coaches adopt the strike when the iron is hot mentality and sell high after buying low regardless of the quality of their next investment. Lembo seems to be biding his time, preparing his team, and building for long-term success in Muncie, even if he won’t be around to see it. And for that reason and that reason alone, Cards fans just need to enjoy the ride.

So Far in Two Seasons

If you want to find a game that emphasizes the impact Pete Lembo has made at Ball State, Saturday’s win over Central Michigan may be the best example.

Central entered the game with a coach on the hot seat and coming off of an embarrassing home loss to Navy. The Chips were the toast of the conference three years ago, now they struggle in league play.

To fully appreciate Lembo you have to remember what it was like two years ago. To do that just look at Central Michigan today.

As Ball State fans we have seen this before. Central Michigan in 2012 was exactly what Ball State was in 2010, the last year under Stan Parrish.

The result was a game that was never in doubt.

Central had a slight chance to make it interesting to start the second half. Down the 24-10, the Chips fumbled in Cardinal territory. Quarterback Keith Wenning and the offense quickly march down the field for another touchdown making it 31-10.

The rest of the game was pretty much killing clock.

In short, it appeared Central came into the game hoping for the best but expected the worse.

Remember how that felt Ball State fans?

Of course you do. It was like that just two years ago for every game. Even, gulp, against FCS opponents.

Under Pete Lembo it is only like that when the team plays an Oklahoma or a Clemson.

That type of an upgrade is dramatic. The win over Central showed just how much Ball State has improved from Lembo’s first year too.

In 2011, Ball State struggled to gain control with Central in Muncie before finally wrapping it up on this interception from Sean Baker. What was a close match in 2011 was a clinic on how to win on the road in 2012.

Ball State just needs two of its last four to get the seven needed for a likely bowl bid. Thankfully, in two games Ball State should be favored. Army and Miami University are both on the road but on paper Ball State is the better team. Toledo and Ohio will be more difficult.

The Cardinals have a slim chance to win the MAC West, but that is 100 times better than looking for a new coach at this point two years ago.

This is why we love the MAC, a league where teams rise and fall. It makes the MAC interesting compared to other BCS leagues where the same team three schools alternate conference championships.

Enjoy the success while you can. In the MAC nothing lasts forever.

Cards have Georgia on their Mind

Rarely do I get involved in recruiting stories but recruiting philosophy takes the cake.

Recruiting philosophy as in the positions and locations coaches’ target.

Coach Pete Lembo mentioned how his staff targets the positions in need. Having a spreadsheet telling you there is a lack of corners may not sound interesting but where the team searches for the players is.

Ball State has not scored any commits yet but it has made plenty of offers. According to ESPN, the top three states with the most offers are Indiana (9) and a tie for second between Ohio (7) and wait for it…

Georgia!

Ray Charles would be proud of Ball State’s recruiting strategy.

Ball State has the same number offers for players from Georgia as it does with neighbor Ohio. More offers to Georgia than the border states of Michigan, Illinois, and Kentucky combined.

Lembo has made it a priority to expand the recruiting base and win over kids from the South. Where high school football is an unhealthy obsession and talented kids are produced every year like acres of corn are in Indiana.

This philosophy has plenty to do with his time at Elon. Lembo is willing to play games in this region to grab kid’s attention too. Trust me, the Clemson game this season is all about recruiting. If Ball State wanted to get paid to be beaten by a BCS team it would have gone with a closer team like a Wisconsin or Michigan State.

It is a bold strategy. Every school wants to grab kids from Georgia and the South. If the Cardinals can land a couple of Georgia boys then it may all be worth the added travel expenses for coach’s visits.

On the other hand it could backfire. With Ball State placing its bets in Georgia nothing could be worse than having Western Michigan or Northern Illinois snatching an Indiana kid who goes on to torch Ball State for four years. We just saw that with Chandler Harnish at NIU.

Personally, I would rather see Ball State clean house in Indiana. Even if the talent is not as good as Georgia’s, seeing Ball State steal kids away from IU and Purdue will bring a smile to any fan.

But if Lembo can pull some commits out of his Georgia hat it will be a cause for celebration. With all the confederate flag and NASCAR jokes aside, I would be thrilled to have them in Muncie.

Meeting Pete Lembo

You can now say you read the bog post of the blogger who shook the hand of Pete Lembo.

I can finally say I have met Pete Lembo and he at least knows I exist.

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.