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Lebo out as ECU basketball coach

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Jeff Lebo, right, announces Wednesday that he is stepping down as East Carolina's basketball coach. Sitting next to him is ECU athletics director Jeff Compher.

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

He said it was not about the crushing losses to start his eighth season, but Jeff Lebo decided after what he called long consideration on Wednesday that he could no longer coach the East Carolina basketball team.

With his team mired in a dreadful 2-4 start to the season that includes losses to Radford, Central Connecticut State and North Carolina A&T, Lebo announced he was stepping away immediately as he sat with Director of Athletics Jeff Compher at a news conference in the football stadium’s club level. The coach admitted life has been tough for his team in the American Athletic Conference and added that the ECU job presents its share of challenges.

“This place has given me new life when I was at a low point in my career,” said Lebo, who came to ECU after a six-year stint at Auburn. “I poured my heart and soul into this place. I love East Carolina. I love Greenville.”

Top assistant Michael Perry, who coached the team for the second half of last season while Lebo recovered from surgery, will lead the team beginning at home tonight against UNC Wilmington.

This is the second ECU coach this month to resign. Veteran soccer coach Rob Donnenwirth announced his resignation Nov. 9.

The height of the Lebo era at ECU was the team winning the collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament in 2012-13, part of a 23-12 campaign. Following a 17-17 finish the next season, the wins began to decline with consecutive 12-win campaigns before going 15-18 last season.

But last year’s promise vanished in part with the transfer of Elijah Hughes to Syracuse, the indefinite suspension of sophomores Jeremy Sheppard and Raquan Wilkins and the failure to land an NCAA waiver for Virginia Tech transfer Seth LeDay. It drastically changed the face of this team and results on the court.

“I hope people will understand a little bit the thought process that I’ve gone through and the new chapter and the pivot that I’m making,” Lebo said, adding he has no immediate plans to coach elsewhere. “It’s been in the back of my head for a while, but nothing really concrete until fairly recently.

“It’s just time. It’s time for a leadership change, time for a new direction.”

Compher said there were no immediate financial impacts for the university in Lebo’s decision.

In fact, the AD admitted to being caught off guard when Lebo approached him early Wednesday and brought his wife with him. Compher said there is no immediate plan for a permanent replacement.

“We’ll just move forward with coach Perry and see where that takes us, but there is no financial implications to the university at this point,” Compher said. “It was a big surprise today, so we have not put together any kind of plan for the future in regard to a search or what we might do next.”

Lebo said the Pirates “could be undefeated” right now and that he likely would have come to the same conclusion. He based the decision largely in family, noting that he has been all over the country and seen nothing but gyms and hotel rooms because of his coaching commitments.

The Pennsylvania native and former standout player at North Carolina said the team’s leap from Conference USA to the American was taller than most anticipated.

“The league’s a challenge. Trying to win here is a challenge,” he said. “But there are challenges everywhere. This is a great place. There’e no doubt about it. We’ve had a lot of challenges along the way. The game has changed. The landscape has changed at that’s a challenge.”

Lebo said he cherishes having his father, Dave, as an integral part of his career.

Dave Lebo coached his son at Carlisle High School, and Jeff Lebo said he hopes to have a similar relationship with his son, Creighton, who is a sophomore and standout basketball player at J.H. Rose.

Hired to take over for Mack McCarthy in 2010-11, Lebo went 18-16 in his first season.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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