(ECU SID Photo)
The basketball culture at East Carolina must change if new coach Jeff
Lebo is going to accomplish his assigned mission of ending the Pirates'
ECU athletic director Terry Holland knows that. Step one was moving
former coach Mack McCarthy into a fund-raising capacity for a
badly-needed basketball practice facility. Step two was snatching Jeff
Lebo out of the discard bin at Auburn.
The astute Holland forged an alliance with one of the most powerful and
successful programs in the nation in the process of the coaching
"This is an outstanding hire by East Carolina," said North Carolina
coach Roy Williams. "Jeff is a tremendous coach who was in an
unfortunate situation at Auburn. I strongly believe this is a new day
for East Carolina basketball. The program will improve dramatically
under Jeff's leadership."
The 43-year old Lebo has generated an impressive resume.
He was a McDonald's All-American in high school when he played for his
dad, Dave, in Carlisle, PA. He averaged 28 points per game as a senior,
leading Carlisle to the first of four straight 4-A state championships.
Holland tried to recruit Lebo to Virginia but he chose instead to play
for Coach Dean Smith in Chapel Hill.
A four-year letterman for the Tar Heels, Lebo helped Carolina to a
116-25 record as a player. That included two ACC regular season titles
as well as the 1989 league tournament title. North Carolina advanced to the Sweet
16 of the NCAA Tournament in each of his four years and got as far as
the Elite Eight twice.
He was a three-time All-ACC Tournament selection and a second-team
all-conference pick in 1988. Lebo received the Patterson Award as the
school's top student-athlete in 1989. He is eighth in career assists and
24th in career scoring at North Carolina.
Any Pirate who has reservations about Lebo's Tar Heel background should
remember that Jim Mallory, the baseball coach who guided the Pirates to
the NAIA championship in 1961, was a UNC alumnus. Mallory was inducted
into the ECU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1978.
Lebo played briefly in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs before
beginning his college coaching career with two successful seasons at
East Tennessee State. He then served on the staff of another former Tar
point guard, Eddie Fogler, at Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
Holland was especially interested in Lebo's accomplishments as head
coach at Tennessee Tech and Chattanooga. Both programs made significant
improvement under Lebo's leadership.
"Jeff Lebo has established a well-deserved reputation as a 'program
turner,' " Holland said. "He has a proven track record as a player, as
an assistant coach and as a head coach.
"When you combine those attributes with his desire for his family to be
located in Eastern North Carolina, it gives me great comfort that we
have the opportunity to establish something very special for our
basketball program over the next few decades under Jeff's leadership."
Holland's degree of commitment is indicated in the contract terms. The
New Bern Sun-Journal reported that Lebo will receive a six-year, $3.375
million contract from ECU. His base salary will be $175,000 in his first
year and increase by $25,000 each year. With marketing and broadcast
bonuses, Lebo will make $500,000 in his first year.
The contract also includes a $50,000 incentive for finishing at least
.500 in Conference USA and a $100,000 bonus for making the NCAA
tournament, something no ECU team has done since the 1992-93 season when
Eddie Payne was the Pirates coach.
The Birmingham News reported that Lebo was to receive a $1.5 million
buyout for the three years remaining on his contract at Auburn.
Payne was the last ECU hoops coach to leave the program on his own
terms, accepting an offer from Oregon State in 1996 after three straight
winning seasons. His 1992-93 team captured ECU's second and last NCAA
Tournament berth by winning the Colonial Athletic Association
The Pirates had a winning record the season after Payne
departed. Joe Dooley took over in 1996-97 but that was the last time
an ECU hoops team has been above .500.
Payne, who now guides a fledgling Division I program at South Carolina
Upstate, has some perspective on what is involved in generating
basketball success at ECU.
"They've changed conferences and it's a different footprint in
recruiting," Payne said. "There are some issues and I'm not sure any one
in particular is easily identifiable in terms of what has happened.
"There isn't a lot of traction with tradition, but Jeff is a solid guy
and he'll do a good job. We got good players in Eastern North Carolina
and up and down the I-95 corridor. I think that's what you have to do.
It's an advantage having Terry Holland as athletic director because he's
a basketball guy, like Dave Hart when I was there but even more so.
"I think you've got to get the community involved, get people in the gym
and market that atmosphere. The tradition doesn't have validity but if
you generate atmosphere that can help you get players. Minges (Coliseum)
is an enjoyable basketball experience, It can be done."
Lebo expects effort
ECU fans have to like Lebo's take on effort at his introductory new
"One, you're going to see a team out there that's going to play hard,"
said the new Pirates coach. "The one thing that I don't coach is effort.
I expect that.
"We want to play smart. Some nights are better than others for that, but
playing smart is something I believe in. We want to play together. We
want guys who understand our core values: being accountable, dependable,
reliable and trusting. Those things aren't just important on the
basketball floor. They're important in other areas of their lives as
well, like academics and social settings."
That relates to something Lebo's former Tar Heel teammate Hubert Davis,
now an ESPN analyst, said about the total building job Lebo will do with
The Heels aren't the only ones endorsing Holland's newest hire. The
Pirate Nation is showing rare anticipation and enthusiasm for hoops at
the moment. Former ECU baseball player and coach Hal Baird put his stamp
of approval on Lebo. Baird coached baseball at Auburn after leaving ECU
before moving into Auburn's athletic administration.
"He always represented Auburn in a first-class manner with dignity and
character, and I'm thrilled that Jeff Lebo will be the next head men's
basketball coach at East Carolina," Baird said.
Melissa, Dink and Dave
Lebo's wife, Melissa, is understandably excited about being back in
Eastern North Carolina. She grew up in Williamston where her father,
Dink Mills, was the long time football coach and athletic director at
Williamston High School.
An Ayden native,
Dink Mills was a wing back in the Pirate football
program from 1962 to 1964.
Lebo's dad, Dave, established a
legendary reputation as a prep coach in the Keystone State. More
recently, he has served as an assistant on his son's college
coaching staffs, including at Auburn.