Leave it to Ball State to be the victim of inopportune times to have bad news hit the media. Like holiday breaks ruined by Coaches Hoke and Parrish, Pete Lembo now joins the list of Cardinal head coaches who had their departure broken in a less than ideal fashion. Earlier this afternoon, Bruce Feldman of FoxSports tweeted that CPL had resigned to take an assistant job at Maryland, later reported to be the special teams coach. And just like that, the CPL era in Muncie came crashing to Earth with a thud.
The first three years under Lembo rekindled the Cardinal football program and saw BSU go 25-13 with two bowl appearances. The final two years saw an 8-16 mark and fans screaming for changes as high as Lembo himself to show an administration that was committed to winning football games. That’s a moot point now, as the administration has to figure out where it goes in the wake of an unexpected vacancy. It’s the first premier hire for AD Mark Sandy, so here’s hoping he gets it right.
Lembo leaves Muncie with a 33-29 record, but let’s not ignore some harsh reality here. Lembo won no bowl games, trended downward the final two years, and more than a few people grumbled about how he came across in the athletic department and in general. There was the fiasco with the bowl in Boise, some puzzling hires when vacancies arose, and oh by the way, a new title and paycheck to the tune of Associate AD and $500k-plus. There have been times when a legitimate argument could be made that BSU admin dropped the ball on retaining a great coach. I believe with every fiber of my being that this isn’t that. To act like CPL was anything other than a coach on the decline who rode a phenomenal group of NFL-caliber players (Snead, Newsome, Wenning, Patterson, etc.) to several good years would be misrepresenting something fairly obvious. Let’s also not forget how the bottom seemed to fall out of our little glass bottom boat when Jay Bateman and Rich Skrosky left Muncie. Something to think about.
The timing couldn’t be worse for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the late in the game timeline to find a new coach. There’s also considerations for the current assistants now looking for work when a new coach is hired at the worst possible time for that, but that’s lower on the priority list admittedly. Perhaps most shocking is the fact that the BSU players seemed unaware of any of it until it began to circulate on social media. Even more surprising was the reaction of several current and former players that was anything but a “We love you coach, good luck” kind of vibe. So there’s that.
The immediate feeling from me is that CPL knew the next couple years were going to be more like 2015 than 2013 and rather than have his reputation and job prospects damaged further, he jumped at the first chance that came along. There are stories out there that CPL was frustrated about a lack of resources and an underfunded program, but given the change that’s happened since he’s been here (his own pay, especially, and the facilities upgrades) and the condition it was in when he came, I can’t fathom that to be the reason he’s leaving. A reason? Maybe. The reason? Doubtful.
We’ll have more on this as things develop, but this is a stunning bit of news and demonstrates in bold and vivid details what a business this business truly is. While fans like to think it’s all “Win one for ole State U!”, I’d say this is proof positive that the only thing coaches care about when the rubber hits the road is themselves and their future. Best of luck to Coach Lembo, and as a former staffer in College Park, I can tell you that green grass you observe from the other side of the fence isn’t nearly as wonderful as you think. And with that, consider CoachSearch16 officially open.