Posted by: lcowie | September 14, 2008

Personality Profile on Coach Pete Lembo

Intangible values most important for Coach Pete Lembo, football team

by Lesley Cowie

In 2004, LeHigh University’s head football coach, Pete Lembo, had a tough decision to make – play the starting quarterback with a 7-1 record or the junior quarterback who had not played much at all. During preseason, Lembo decided to bench the starting quarterback, who was going into his senior year.

As head coach, Pete Lembo must often make difficult decisions. He keeps the program's best interest in mind.

As head coach, Pete Lembo must often make difficult decisions. He keeps the program's best interests in mind.

“That was a very difficult decision because you’re dealing with human beings,” said Lembo. “At the same time, leadership is being decisive. You have to make an educated risk, a calculated risk, with the best interest of the program in mind. Once you make that decision, you have to live with it and accept the ramifications of it.”

The LeHigh Mountain Hawks won nine games and a championship that year. They also made the playoffs. Lembo recognized how things could have been different had he went in the opposite direction.

“I didn’t regret the decision,” he said. “It needed to be made, and I was the one who needed to make it.”

Elon offered Lembo the position for head football coach in Dec. 2005. Lembo had spent five years coaching at LeHigh, helping to bring their program to the level of a perennial championship contender.

“I had proven to myself, more than anything else, that I could be a successful head coach and maintain a good program, which was really the challenge at LeHigh,” Lembo said. “Coming here [to Elon] gave me the opportunity to take on a program that had really fallen on hard times for five years.”

Lembo's organization and persistence contributes to the improved home game attendance and pride at Elon. photo courtesy of David Wells

Lembo's organization and persistence contributes to improved home game attendance and pride at Elon. photo courtesy of David Wells

Lembo has taken the Phoenix from the bottom of the Southern Conference standings to becoming a championship contender in the last two years.

He credits this success to his attention to detail. When you are thorough and detailed, he said, you can change the culture quicker. Changing the culture has been the biggest task to accomplish.

In addition to detail, Lembo’s players believe intangible values have allowed them to succeed. Players, like junior Bruce Rosell, cited respect, passion, encouragement, and organization as key strategies for victory.

“We are not just football players to him [Lembo],” Rosell said. “Lembo…is trying to mold us into great men and not just great football players.”

Rosell went on to say that during the off-season, Lembo requires his players to attend meetings. The meetings, Rosell said, are about nutrition, credit cards, and other subjects that will help us be productive members of society.

“I think the proper role for a coach is someone who takes care of a young man, helps him develop into a reliable man, and teaches him principles and morals that could help him later on in life,” junior Cameron McGlenn said. “His positive coaching style has helped me gain confidence in my ability.”

Lembo admits that one of his main strategies is to improve the quality of life for his players. It is about more than just football, he said. It is about how you live your life.

Serving as Elon's head football coach has been quite an undertaking for Lembo. "This certainly has been a huge challenge," he said. "But it has reenergized me."

Serving as Elon's head football coach has been quite the undertaking for Lembo. "This has certainly been a huge challenge," he said. "But it has reenergized me."

“I think you have to be a great role model,” Lembo said. “You’re a public figure, a visible figure….When you have 100 young men between the ages of 18 and 22, who have had different degrees of role models in their lives leading up to this point, you have to know that they are always learning from what you say and what you do and that you can make a big impact on them.”

“He [Lembo] has everything figured out,” freshman A.J. Harris said. “I’ve had other coaches that weren’t sure about this or that, but Coach Lembo always knows what he’s doing and always has a plan.”

This plan has included ways to increase home game attendance, academic standings, and community outreach.

The team’s GPA has been increasing since the day I came to Elon, junior Mark Hoffer said. Attendance and fan support has also shown a significant increase.

“This year the players have been given more Elon football apparel, including t-shirts with our schedule on the back, which helps people know when we have a game,” Harris said. “Being supportive of other activities helps to attract new fans. If there is a prominent speaker in town, Lembo has the entire squad attend it.”

To improve the academic standing of the team, Rosell said, we have required grade checks every Monday afternoon. We share our grades for the past week and talk about which subjects we might need help with.

Elon football players strive for a personal connection with their coach. They respect Lembo for his interest in their lives outside of football.

Elon football players strive for a personal connection with their coach. They respect Lembo for his interest in their lives outside of football.

“We have tried to be really involved in the community,” senior Brandon Lane said. “We have worked at the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington. We did a fundraiser through the health center with sexual assault awareness month in April that was through Crossroads in Burlington.”

Many students have noted the sudden success of the Elon football team. Being ranked in the top 25 is a tangible accomplishment, Lembo said. It is proof that what we are doing is working.

“For me, I think the greatest sense of accomplishment is knowing that people are taking pride in the Elon football program, not just players, but everyone associated with the university right now,” Lembo said.

Coach Lembo has strived to improve every aspect of Elon football, from the actual features of the game to the intangible qualities held by his players.

“I see the Elon football team as good as it’s ever been in 5 years,” Harris said. “Coach Lembo will continue building this program, and we will evolve into a championship team.”

Lembo discusses the best advice he ever received from a mentor.

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