2016 Purdue Football Coaching Search: Pete Lembo
Candidate Tier #5
Category: Risky, Painful division
Who Is He?
Boilerdowd: Current Maryland Asst. HC, Former Ball State, Elon and Lehigh HC.
Zlionsfan: Pete Lembo is currently coaching special teams and tight ends at Maryland under D.J. Durkin, both of whom are in their first year there. Before that, Lembo spent 15 years as a head coach: 5 for I-AA Lehigh, 5 for I-AA Elon, and 5 for little old Ball State.
He was pretty solid at Lehigh, taking over for Kevin Higgins and posting a 44-14 record there with two playoff appearances (a quarterfinal loss in 2001 and a first-round loss in 2004). At Elon, he struggled a bit, going 35-22 with a first-round playoff loss in 2009, and at Ball State, he did worse: 33-29, 0-2 in bowl games, 8-16 in his last two seasons in Muncie.
Why would he be successful at Purdue?
Boilerdowd: He won .600 at BSU, produced some NFL talent in a very organic manner and took the Cardinals to two bowl games in five seasons. His career was on a very linear course until he decided to move to Maryland to be an assistant coach. He's a pretty smart guy by most accounts and his personality exudes consistency and steadiness.
Zlionsfan: The MAC is actually a solid Group of Five conference, at least at the top, and Lembo took a historically unsuccessful team and got them 10 wins and a bowl bid. Plus, attendance in Muncie is low enough that they struggle to stay eligible for I-A, so he should have no problems his first year in Ross-Ade (zing!).
That Cardinals team was led by Keith Wenning, who was a 2-/3-star recruit and ended up leading an offense that scored 38.5 points per game that season; again, in the short term, Purdue is more likely to have similarly-rated recruits at QB than to have QBs like Danny Etling, the only 4-star offensive player Hazell brought to West Lafayette, so what they are likely to need is a coach accustomed to working with players like that.
Why could he flop at Purdue?
Boilerdowd: The low expectations and low competition level that Lembo saw at BSU are not what he'd have to deal with at Purdue. Plus, the fact that he didn't get picked up as HC following his solid seasons at Ball State says something.
Zlionsfan: Ball State’s offense fell off a cliff after Wenning graduated, and that plus a change from the cushion-soft schedule they had in 2013 brought a quick end to Lembo’s tenure at BSU. It’s reasonable to look for a coach that had sustained success in the MAC; Lembo had two good years, both with Wenning at QB. For that matter, he didn’t really have sustained success at Elon or Lehigh – the Mountain Hawks did most of their damage against unranked opponents, but didn’t make the playoffs often and didn’t do much damage when they were there. It’s a bit much to expect an above-average I-AA coach with two decent MAC years to succeed in the Big Tenteen.
Would he come to Purdue?
Zlionsfan: Actually, probably not. He’s already spent five years trying to drag an underfunded program upward to at least be competitive in its conference; why start in the same situation all over again? Also, this Fox Sports profile [ed: link] on Lembo’s move notes that he and his wife are now closer to their parents (well, it says “grandparents of their three children”, which is usually the same thing). It would be awkward to leave a coaching job (Ball State didn’t fire him) in part because of family, and then turn around the very next year and move back pretty much where you just were.
I’m sure Bobinski could offer him a significant raise – Maryland still doesn’t get a full share of TV money yet, and one reason they bolted from the ACC was because they were barely breaking even there – but I don’t think this is all about money.