After a roller coaster season that saw key players and Pirates’ Head Coach Jeff Lebo miss some games, the East Carolina men’s basketball team prepares to bounce back after a loss in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Basketball Championship. But should it be done with Lebo still in charge? Has Lebo done enough to stay at the helm for the ECU men’s basketball team?

The Pirates started the 2016-17 season off hot by winning seven of their first 10 games under their coach, who is one of the most accomplished in program history. ECU easily handled the historic black colleges they faced in that stretch, defeating Grambling State, North Carolina A&T, Hampton University and North Carolina Central University, which went on to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Under Lebo, the team appeared to play stagnant and unable to compete with teams they should easily defeat. The enthusiasm to win under Lebo seemed at an all-time low for the program. As the Pirates lost games leading up to the midpoint of the season, history began to repeat itself with another disappointing season unfolding.

A quarter way through the season, ECU’s winning percentage was slightly above 60 percent, with a record of 8-5, before it started the AAC regular season. Power forward Clarence Williams, who was in and out of the starting line-up, was dismissed from the team by Lebo. At the time, Williams was averaging six points, seven rebounds, and two blocks per game. The dismissal of Williams was a shock to both the team and Pirate fanbase, and marked the beginning of the team’s decline.

Lebo’s decision to dismiss Williams hurt the team, but not as much as the injuries to his teammates. Over the rest of conference play, injuries began to mount for the Pirates, taking a toll on the team. Starters B.J. Tyson, Kentrell Barkley, Jeremy Shepard, Caleb White and Michel Nzege all missed a couple games during the season, but no injury was worse for the team than losing its coach to a hip injury.

Lebo went through a hip surgery on Jan. 16 and thus was ruled out from coaching indefinitely, eventually missing the rest of the season. Assistant Coach Michael Perry took over as the interim head coach, debuting in the AAC matchup against the Connecticut Huskies on Jan. 22. Under Perry, the team went 6-8 in the last 14 games of the season. Some can say that while Lebo was out, the team performed better and played with much more intensity. Perry turned around the lackluster season for the Pirates, helping get them to the second round of the AAC conference tournament where ECU lost to No. 12 Southern Methodist University 81-77.

Lebo has had a good run with the Pirates, but as the past season shows the team is beginning to grow apart from its operator. Lebo has accomplished many things during his time at ECU, but leading the Pirates to the NCAA tournament isn’t among his list of achievements. Most coaches who consistently have a stagnant record do not get the chance to renew their contract.

Lebo is headed into his eighth season as coach of the Pirates, which will make him one of only three coaches in the program’s history to last at least eight seasons. His 114 wins are the second most in school history and make him the winningest coach in the program’s 52-year Division I history. The best season for Lebo came four years ago in 2013 when the team won a school-record 23 games, while also winning the Postseason Tournament. Despite that, Lebo has had only two winning seasons heading into the upcoming campaign, and the past season did not take any heat off his seat.

I believe because Lebo has been head coach at ECU for seven years and only had two winning seasons, the school needs to part ways with him, despite Lebo being one of the winningest coaches in program history. After leading the team to 18-win and 23-win seasons in his first three years on the job, the Pirates have regressed over the last three seasons. The team has consistently not advanced past the conference tournament under Lebo. Making matters worse for Lebo, the team finished this past season strong under Perry.

Ultimately, last year was an average season for the Pirates compared to past seasons under Lebo. ECU finished 15-18 in the regular season and 6-12 in the AAC, good for ninth in the conference.

The new normal of the program has become a losing mentality. Therefore, we should wish coach Lebo farewell, and start a new dynasty.

(1) comment


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