There might not be a football coach in America that has an appreciation for Seinfeld more so than Ball State’s Pete Lembo. Having grown up in Staten Island, he understands the references and humor involved in the timeless sitcom.
With that in mind, I feel like channeling my inner George Costanza (my wife says I am George Costanza) from the great episode titled “The Opposite,” in which he determines that “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right,” and begins to act the opposite of what his instincts tell him – and with remarkable results.
Every instinct I have tells me that Lembo would be a tremendous hire to lead the Purdue football program. But unlike George, I know that am far from incorrect on this hunch.
Truth be told, I have zero interest in Lembo, who has been mentioned by columnists, bloggers, and produce workers at various grocery stores as a candidate for the Boston College, North Carolina State, Purdue, East Carolina, Tennessee, and Los Angeles Lakers jobs (he, like Phil Jackson, felt spurned at the last minute) leaving Muncie for any place.
I want to detail the various reasons why Purdue should pass on this guy, hoping the George Costanza approach works. But there honestly aren’t any valid reasons for the Boilermakers to allow Lembo out of their grasp. And if Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke does his homework, he’ll come to the same conclusion.
How good has Lembo been in guiding the Ball State program – on and off of the field?
Ask anyone that is close to the Cardinals and they’ll tell you he is better at running the entire operation than former coach (and current Michigan coach) Brady Hoke ever dreamt of being, and Hoke was really good. That’s not a knock on Hoke, Lembo is just that great.
Why is he that good? Here are just some of those reasons:
This guy is as cerebral as any football coach in the country. The Georgetown graduate studies every minute detail of the program, and immerses himself into it to ensure that its future, not just the here and now, is solidified.
Lembo has spread sheets showing where he’ll have gaps on his roster in 2016 and what he’ll need to do now to rectify those holes. Some coaches talk about only being focused on the next game; Lembo knows right now which recruiting class in the upcoming years he’ll need to go get a punter who can fill the position through 2020.
He not only sits in on special teams’ meetings, Lembo revels in that stuff. It is one of the most enjoyable moments of the week for the veteran coach. If you want to know the most scrutinized coach in America, it probably is Ball State assistant coach Justin Lustig, who oversees that unit for the Cardinals. That’s due to Lustig’s boss secretly wanting to be demoted to his job.
Purdue has long been a haven for quarterbacks and prolific offenses, and Burke mentioned that at his recent news conference. Lembo is soooo the right guy for this job.
Ask ESPN executives how much they like airing Ball State games (the Cardinals average 35 points per game) and they’ll start stuttering with excitement.
Lembo has taken a chubby, turnover-prone quarterback in Keith Wenning and developed him into an athletic (the guy runs pass routes now) stud that is the best college quarterback in this state (sorry Everett Golson, you’re good, but not that good). If Lembo can do that at Ball State, good Lord, who do you think he’ll get recruiting to a Big Ten program?
Burke spoke on the declining ticket base at Purdue, and the next coach will have to do a lot of marketing for the Boilermakers. Well then, it’s a good thing that Lembo has a degree in that subject from one of the premier academic institutions in the country.
Last summer, the Cardinal coaches worked at McDonald’s to drum up interest (which increased nearly 30 percent this season). Lembo and is staff are not only bright and hard working, but humble as well.
Lembo doesn’t frown upon social media, he embraces it. Send him a tweet and the guy will actually respond to it.
He also writes a weekly newsletter regarding the latest happenings with his program and will email it to anyone that requests it.
Lembo even participated in a live chat with News-Sentinel.com earlier this season. See, he’s hip!
Like many NCAA Division I football programs, Ball State’s players aren’t perfect, a situation involving the arrest of one of the best Cardinal players earlier this year demonstrated such. However, the total representation of the program over the past 24 months has been one that the Cardinal faculty and athletic staff boasts about. Rare is the instance where negative situations occur. Very rare.
Lembo has coached at Dartmouth, Lehigh and Elon universities, so he takes academics very seriously. Ask him on a whim which one of the Cardinal reserves is struggling with his grades and Lembo can tell you not only which player, but in what classes, and even why, the student-athlete isn’t performing to expectations.
He’s implemented a Leadership Council among his players that mentors the younger and/or wayward souls within the locker room; has alumni come back to speak not just about the joy of playing football at Ball State, but where those lessons have led them to career success (in the workplace, not on the football field); altered the enrollment dates of freshman to enhance their experience academically, athletically, and socially; implemented a program which guides the student-athletes into professional internships and experiences during the summer; and created community activism that has his players walking the streets of Muncie each August to spread the word about their program.
Ask any of the Cardinal student-athletes and they’ll tell you that virtually every aspect of their lives have been positively impacted by Lembo and his coaching staff. That is the true measure of success for Lembo, not just the abundance of victories, which have also been achieved.
The Purdue committee overseeing the hiring process can rack their brains in coming up with the reasons to hire a bigger name, from a bigger program, than the mild-mannered (aside from the football field) Lembo. They’ll want to win the press conference because instincts tell them that is important. However, they shouldn’t be so short-sighted. They should follow George Costanza’s example and ignore those instincts. They’ll be far better off in the long run.