The 2014 season for Ball State head coach Pete Lembo ended in an unfamiliar fashion.
For only the second time in his 14-year coaching career, a Lembo-coached team finished below the .500 mark. It was the first occasion in his four years at Ball State.
Though his most recent season didn’t end in a particularly positive light, Lembo is quietly emerging as the next hot commodity in college football coaching.
The 45-year-old Georgetown alum doesn’t garner much recognition from the national media and hasn’t been a swirling name in the coaching carousel, at least not yet.
Prior to his arrival in Muncie in 2011, Lembo had never played or coached at the FBS level. His appearance is more appropriate for a local computer maintenance guru rather than a head football coach. The teams he’s coached have never been too flashy.
But with an overall record of 109-56 and a proven track record of turning losing teams into consistent winners, it’s hard to imagine Lembo will be ignored by major programs for much longer.
When Lembo took over the reins at Elon in 2006, the Phoenix hadn’t posted a winning mark since the 2000 season. From 2002-2004, the team’s combined record was an abysmal 8-26. Though his first season was a struggle, the two-time conference Coach of the Year was able to rattle off four-straight winning years.
In 2009, Elon finished the season ranked 9th in the FCS top-25 and reached the NCAA FCS playoffs for the first time in school history.
His success at Elon, coupled with his 44-14 mark at Lehigh from 2001- 2005, was enough to gain the attention of Ball State and climb another rung on the coaching ladder.
Lembo was thrown into a similar situation at Ball State. After a 12-win year in 2008 under Brady Hoke, the Cardinals finished 2-10 in 2009 and 4-8 in 2010.
In his first season the Cardinals finished 6-6.
That was followed by a nine and 10-win seasons in 2012 and 2013, respectively. In each season, Ball State reached a bowl game but was unable to notch its first postseason victory in the school’s forgettable football history.
Regardless of what happened in Lembo’s most recent season, his continued success will shortly earn acknowledgment from other major programs around the country.
His offensive mindset would be an asset to plenty of Power Five conference teams looking to get back into the realm of relevancy.
From 2011 through 2013, Ball State’s offensive production continued to soar, ultimately ending in a 38.5 points per game average in the Cardinals’ 10-3 campaign. It was an improvement by 13 points per game from Lembo’s first season and ranked 15th in scoring in major college football.
With a rebuilding year behind them, Ball State is expected to re-emerge as a competitor in the MAC and fight for bowl eligibility in the 2015 season. The anticipation of the Cardinals’ potential success is a direct result of a culture change that Lembo has addressed as he enters his fifth season with the program.
Ball State had better enjoy the success they experience under their current head coach, because another big year means Lembo’s phone will be ringing for a better paying, more prestigious coaching opportunity.